Fear Not: Jesus Is Risen
P. G. Mathew | Sunday, April 12, 2009
Copyright © 2009, P. G. Mathew
On Easter Sunday morning, the resurrection angel declared, "Fear not! He is not here; he is risen." Jesus Christ our risen Lord also proclaims, "Fear not! I am risen, and I am King! I have received all authority in heaven and on earth, and I hold the keys of death and Hades. The devil has been cast down, and death is conquered!" Let us examine the reasons we need not fear.
The Women Witnesses
After Jesus was crucified on Good Friday, Mary Magdalene, from whom Jesus had cast out seven demons, and Mary the mother of James the Younger, an apostle, came early Sunday morning to the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, into which the body of Jesus was placed by Joseph himself. Joseph had cut this fresh tomb for his own future burial. A rich and righteous man who was expecting the kingdom of God and the Messiah, Joseph was a secret disciple of Jesus and did not consent to his condemnation. He feared the Jews, though he was a prominent member of the Sanhedrin. Yet unlike the Jewish leaders, Joseph believed that Jesus was the Messiah.
Though all the apostles, including Peter, confessed a few hours before Christ's crucifixion that they would stick with Jesus and die with him, they all abandoned him and fled in the hour of his greatest need. They did not even try to bury him before the Sabbath. The Romans left the dead bodies of the crucified ones to rot on the cross. Yet it was God's plan to bury his Son with the rich (Isa. 53:9), so the Holy Spirit came upon the fearful Joseph of Arimathea to boldly ask permission from Pilate himself to bury Jesus' body. Pilate agreed to his request, and assisted by Nicodemus, another secret disciple and council member, the wealthy Joseph gave Jesus a royal Jewish burial with seventy-five pounds of expensive spices, brand new linen, and a brand new tomb. The Scripture was thus fulfilled in spite of Jesus' own apostles abandoning him.
The two Marys did not know that the authorities had taken measures to prevent anyone from taking Jesus' body from the tomb. The tomb was shut and the big stone sealed with a Roman seal. Soldiers were appointed to guard the tomb day and night until the third day.
The women were coming, not to see the risen Jesus but to show their loyal love by anointing his dead body to prevent its rapid decomposition, something the apostles did not even do. These women had completely forgotten that Jesus had said several times that after his death he would be raised on the third day. Had they believed, they would not have had to grieve hopelessly for three days.
These women truly loved Jesus. Having served Jesus and his disciples out of their own means (Luke 8:2-3), they recently traveled with Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem for the Passover celebration. They were there when Jesus was crucified and when he was buried on Friday at 5 p.m. Now they were coming early Sunday morning to show more love by anointing Christ's dead body.
When they arrived at the tomb, they saw that the big stone was not in place and the tomb was wide open. What had happened? There was a violent earthquake very early Sunday morning, like the earthquake on Friday afternoon when Jesus was crucified. Through these earthquakes God was declaring, "Listen to me. I am acting and I am in charge."
An angel sent by God the Father came down from heaven and went to the tomb, took the large, sealed stone out of its groove, threw it out, and sat on it. The angel's actions remind us of what Samson did when his Philistine enemies were trying to kill him: "Then he got up and took hold of the doors of the city gate, together with the two posts, and tore them loose, bar and all. He lifted them to his shoulders and carried them to the top of the hill that faces Hebron" (Judges 16:3).
On Friday at 3 p.m. when Jesus died, there was a great celebration in hell. The devil and the demons shouted, "Rejoice! Jesus Christ is crucified. He is finished." The Jewish and Gentile leaders also rejoiced. They had the tomb sealed and guarded. They knew that breaking the seal of the tomb was a federal crime. If anyone dared break this law, he must be killed.
But heaven does not care what its enemies do. "The One enthroned in heaven laughs, the Lord scoffs at them" (Ps. 2:4). The Lord sent his angel to break the seal and open the tomb, not so that Jesus could get out, but to let the women in to see the evidence of his resurrection-the empty tomb and the grave clothes that were left behind.
The guards felt the earthquake, saw the lightning appearance of the angel, and shook with fear. They fell to the ground, paralyzed and unconscious. Who can prevent Jesus from rising from the dead? The women too were alarmed and seized with fear. The angel said to them, "Fear not, you women friends of Jesus. The guards and the unbelievers are to fear, but not you."
When people do not fear God, they must fear everything. The unbelievers fear the wrath of God because of their sin. They are without God and without hope. They are dead men walking. They may be rich, famous, and powerful, but they live in fear moment by moment. But we have been delivered from fear. Christians, stop fearing, because you fear God. Be not anxious or worried.
The angel told the women, "I have good news for you. You came to anoint the dead body of Jesus. But behold, he is not here! He has been raised by the glory of the Father who sent me to take away the stone and to tell you to fear not."
It is interesting to note that the angel spoke only to the women, not to the apostles, for in the first century women were despised and their testimonies invalid. They were mere chattel and property. Even today vast numbers of women throughout the world are considered chattel. Jesus Christ and the Scriptures give dignity to women as well as to men.
God blessed these women for their loyal devotion to Jesus, enabling them to see the angel and hear the good news that Jesus Christ is risen. They became the first witnesses of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The angel said, "Come in and see for yourselves. He is not here; he is risen." He was saying, in essence, "Open your eyes to the evidence. Understand the truth. If Jesus was only dead and buried, he is a fraud and a liar. He cannot save himself, let alone us. Only a Jesus who rose from the dead is mighty to save."
"He is risen, just as he said." The angel was telling them to remember what Christ had told them earlier. Five times in this gospel Jesus foretold that he would be killed and on the third day would be raised up. He also said, "But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee" (Matt. 26:32). Elsewhere the angel said, "Why do you seek the living among the dead?" (Luke 24:5) This was a mild rebuke. He was saying, in essence, "You should have believed Jesus."
Come and see! God is telling us to read the Scriptures and understand the gospel. The earliest testimony about the resurrection of Christ is in 1 Corinthians 15:
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. (1 Cor. 15:3-8)
Open the Bible and see Christ! Come to church and listen to what God is speaking. Jesus was crucified and buried, but on the third day God raised him from the dead because it was impossible for death to keep him who was without sin in the grave. The sinless Son of God made atonement for all the sins of all his people by his death. The resurrection was God's "Amen" to Jesus' loud cry, "It is finished!" The work of atonement was finished; no more sacrifices required. No longer are sinners separated from God. The veil has been torn away and God now welcomes sinners to come to him in peace.
Come and see, that you may quickly go and tell. The women were to tell Christ's disciples that they in turn could declare the gospel. So they came into the tomb, saw the folded grave clothes, and heard that Jesus had been raised. They believed and went out. In fact, we are told that they ran with fear, yet with great joy. Their running was motivated by the gospel: Christ has been raised! Their weeping was over. Easter spells joy-irrepressible, glorious joy.
Yet there was one more surprise. If Jesus was not in the tomb, where was he? "Can we see him, hear him, touch him, and worship him?" the women asked. That would be the greatest evidence. As they went out, Jesus himself came to meet them. The women came seeking a dead Jesus, and Jesus the risen One came to meet them. What a joyful surprise! Jesus is risen indeed! They saw him and heard him speak: "Greetings!" In the Greek it is kairete, which means rejoice. Their time of weeping was over.
The women took hold of Christ's crucified feet with the nail scars and worshiped him. That was the correct response. The Magi worshiped the infant Jesus (Matt. 2:11). After Jesus had calmed the storm and saved Peter from drowning, the apostles worshiped him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God" (Matt. 14:22-33). When the one born blind was healed by Jesus, he worshiped him (John 9:38). Soon the disciples would worship him in Galilee (Matt. 28:17). Even the doubting Thomas would worship him, confessing, "My Lord and my God!" (John 20:28).
The women worshiped Jesus because he is God, as he himself said: "I and the Father are one" (John 10:30). They did not worship the angel, because an angel is a creature sent to minister to us. We must worship God alone, and Jesus is God. In him dwells the fullness of the Godhead bodily (Col. 2:9).
As they fell before him, the risen Christ comforted the women, saying, "Do not be afraid" (Matt. 28:10). Fear is due to sin, but Christ's death atoned for all of our sins forever. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. All fear stems from fear of death, which is the wages of sin. But if we have trusted in Christ, our sins are gone forever. The writer to the Hebrews speaks about Jesus becoming man to die that he may deliver us from the fear of death: "Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death-that is, the devil-and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death" (Heb. 2:14-15). If anyone does not believe in Jesus Christ, he is a slave of the devil and fear. If the Son sets us free, we are free indeed.
Therefore, Christians, stop fearing! Jesus Christ took away our sins by his atoning death. He defeated the devil and conquered death by his death. Because Jesus lives forever, we also shall live forever. The joy of the Lord is our strength. The gospel is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Then Jesus told the women, "Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee" (Matt. 28:10). The angel had said, "Go and tell his disciples" (Matt. 28:7). It is true that we are disciples and friends of Christ, but we are also his brothers. We belong to the same family. Jesus says, "Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother" (Matt. 12:50). Paul tells us, "We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers" (Rom. 8:28-29).
So Jesus was saying to the women, "Go and tell my brothers-those brothers who fled, those brothers who abandoned me, those brothers who denied me, those brothers who did not come to the tomb to show their devotion, those brothers who are hiding out for fear. They did all these things, but they are my brothers and I forgive them, for I died for their sins. They may not believe your report that I am risen, but soon they will because I myself will appear to them. After they believe, I will send them into the world to preach the gospel. I will send the Holy Spirit on them to guide them into all truth and make them fearless. They shall even die for the faith. I am going to Galilee and they shall see me there."
Friends, Jesus keeps all his promises. Jesus promised to see his disciples in the dark place of Galilee of the Gentiles (Matthew 26:32), and he did so. Do not believe man, who dies. God is not man that he should lie. Man breaks covenant; God keeps it. (PGM) Believe Jesus Christ, who alone can take away our fear of death eternal. If we do not believe him, we do not honor him as God, as sinless man, as the Savior of mankind, as the way, the truth, and the life. If Jesus is not risen, we have no hope, no New Testament, no Christianity, no foreign missions, no hospitals, no universities, no churches. If Jesus is not risen, death will have the last word.
- The tomb was empty. The angel told the women, "He is not here; he has risen. ... Come and see the place where he lay" (Matt. 28:6).
- The tomb was not completely empty. Christ's grave-clothes, laden with seventy-five pounds of expensive spices, lay there, separate from his face cloth. John saw this and believed. It meant that no one had stolen the body. Instead, the resurrection body of Jesus, with its peculiar new properties, passed through the spice-laden linen and headband, the same way his body went through the closed tomb and later through the closed door of the upper room where the apostles were hiding (John 20:5-8, 19).
- The disciples did not steal the body. Christ's tomb was sealed and guarded by soldiers day and night. The disciples were not expecting Jesus to rise from the dead. As we said before, they all fled and were hiding in fear while they mourned and wept (Mark 16:10). They refused to believe the news of his resurrection when told by the women (Luke 24:11).
- The disciples believed only when Jesus appeared to them. They saw him, heard him, touched him, and ate with him. Jesus said he was not a ghost, for "a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have" (Luke 24:39). They saw nail prints on his hands and feet. They could see his side, which was wounded and healed. The doubt of doubting Thomas vanished. He confessed, "My Lord and my God!" (John 20:28). How can a rotting Jesus be anyone's Lord and God?
Jesus appeared, not only to believers but also to unbelievers. James his own brother did not believe in him at first: "Jesus' brothers said to him, 'You ought to leave here and go to Judea, so that your disciples may see the miracles you do. No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.' For even his own brothers did not believe in him" (John 7:3-5). But when the risen Christ appeared to him, James believed (1 Cor. 15:7). He became the pastor of the Jerusalem church and was killed for his faith. Saul of Tarsus, an enemy of Jesus Christ and Christianity, also did not believe until he saw the risen Christ. A brilliant student of Gamaliel, Saul was not an emotional, irrational being. He gives an account of his conversion:
I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And that is just what I did in Jerusalem. On the authority of the chief priests I put many of the saints in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme. In my obsession against them, I even went to foreign cities to persecute them. On one of these journeys I was going to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. About noon, O king, as I was on the road, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, blazing around me and my companions. We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads." Then I asked, "Who are you, Lord?" "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting," the Lord replied. (Acts 26:9-15)
Later he wrote to Timothy:
I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service. Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners-of whom I am the worst. (1 Tim. 1:12-15)
- The martyrs of the church provide evidence for the bodily resurrection of Christ. Many apostles died for their faith. Who would die for a proven lie?
- The Jewish authorities could have stopped Christianity by producing the dead body of Jesus. They did not. They could not because he was risen from the dead.
- God the Father himself gave proof through the many appearances of the resurrection Christ. Peter says, "God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen-by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead" (Acts 10:40-41). At least eleven appearances of the risen Christ during his forty days on earth are recorded in the New Testament.
- The reality of the resurrection transformed people's lives. Look at Peter and Saul of Tarsus. The gospel transformed them, and it transforms us. If it does not, we are not Christians.
- World missions prove the resurrection. Paul was called to be the apostle to the Gentiles. I myself heard God's call to preach the gospel in the other side of the world, as I am doing today.
Thomas believed when he saw Jesus and touched his hands and feet and side. But Jesus said, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed" (John 20:29). Our faith is supported by the evidence of the apostolic witness revealed in the Scriptures. Christ is not asking us to believe irrationally.
But Jesus is not going to favor us with a private resurrection appearance. We are to hear the eyewitness reports and believe. John proclaims, "These things are written that you may be believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name" (John 20:31). Peter tells us, "Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy" (1 Pet. 1:8).
How does anyone believe without seeing Christ? We have the apostolic witness in the pages of the Scriptures. So Peter says, "For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. For, 'All men are like grass,and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever.' And this is the word that was preached to you" (1 Pet. 1:23-25).
Therefore, Christians, fear not. Come and see, go and tell. Come to the Bible and open your eyes and ears. See the irrefutable evidence of Christ's resurrection and then go and tell others about it. God does not use angels to proclaim the gospel: he uses people like us. What is the gospel? That Christ died for our sins and was raised for our justification (Rom. 4:25). The celebration of hell ended at the point of Christ's resurrection. Death, the devil, and all enemies of God are now defeated. There is joy in heaven as sinners are being saved.
The resurrection proves that:
- Jesus is God
- Jesus is the Messiah
- Jesus is the only Savior
- Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life
- Jesus is the resurrection and the life
- Jesus is sinless
- Jesus is our atonement
- Jesus is Immanuel, God with us. He told us, "I will be with you always, even unto the end of the ages."
The resurrection of Jesus means that we too shall be raised from the dead. So we can say with Paul, "'Where, O death, is your victory?Where, O death, is your sting?' The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Cor. 15:55-57). The sting is gone because sin is gone. Those who have died recently are sleeping in Jesus because they believed in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. So we also shall sleep in Jesus. He has transformed death from loss to gain. It is not far worse; it is far better. It is not absence from God; it is enjoying the presence of God forever.
Fear not, friends. Believe in the facts and rejoice. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead! And soon we too shall see him face to face.
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Copyright © 2009, P. G. Mathew
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