Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! On Good Friday Jesus was crucified for our sins, dying in our place so that we can be forgiven. Laid in the tomb through Holy Saturday. But Easter day has arrived. The stone is rolled away! The tomb is empty! And angels bring the good news – He is not here! He is risen! Jesus is alive. Christ is risen indeed!
So how does this wonderful news make you feel? Relieved? Excited? Joyful? How does Easter make you feel?
Mark’s gospel is remarkable because, at least in the part which most people believe Mark wrote, the gospel does not include any of the resurrection appearances we find in the other gospels. Mark ends very abruptly at Mark 16:8 with just two words (in Greek). “For they were afraid”. Trembling and bewildered – for they were afraid!
These women weren’t just afraid that the apostles wouldn’t believe their story. They were afraid because of what had happened! Because dead men don’t come back to life again! Did you notice how the angel had to tell the women, don’t be alarmed. Don’t be scared.
Matthew’s gospel records the events like this.
Matthew 28:2 There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. 4 The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.
5 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. ….
8 So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples.
Even when Jesus did appear to the women, they were still terrified.
9 Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshipped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
Those women were not alone in being frightened when the Risen Christ appeared to them. At the end of that same day in the Upper Room, Jesus appeared to his disciples.
Luke 24: 36 Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”37 They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? 39 Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” 40 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet.
For months Jesus had been preparing the way, telling his disciples that he was going to die in Jerusalem. But time and again he had also told them that on the Third Day he was going to rise from the dead. But all the time they did not believe him. So here when Easter came the disciples were all still afraid! And we don’t blame the disciples. We aren’t surprised that they are scared. When God breaks into His world and does amazing things, we OUGHT to be scared!
Remember the Angel appearing to the Virgin Mary announcing the news that Jesus would be born?
Luke 1:28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you.”
29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favour with God. 31 You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.
A virgin becoming pregnant – the child who will be the Son of God. No wonder Mary was scared. And remember the shepherds when the Angels came to tell them that Jesus had been born.
Luke 2And there were shepherds living out in the fields near by, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.”
Whenever angels appear to human beings, it’s quite usual for their first words to be “Do not be afraid!” Because God doing new things isn’t just exciting – it really is terrifying!
Remember how the disciples reacted when Jesus walked on the water.
Matthew 14:25 During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear. 27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
And remember when Jesus calmed the storm, Mark 4:40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” 41 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”
When ordinary people come face to face with the power of Almighty God – no wonder they are afraid! As Mr Tumnus says to Lucy at the end of the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, “Aslan isnt a TAME lion, you know!”
Even more so at that first Easter, people were afraid. Because there in the empty tomb something truly miraculous had happened. For the whole of human history one simple rule had applied to all living things. Once they have died, they stay dead. Not just human beings but all creatures – once they are dead, they stay dead! And Jesus Christ had just broken that rule! Didn’t he used to be dead? He had been dead – and now he was alive again! Jesus had risen from the dead! When dead people come back to life in horror films people get scared – that’s why they call them horror films. Jesus had risen from the dead! So no wonder the women were trembling and bewildered! Sure they were afraid – so would you be! So would I be!
Of course, fear is not the only emotion we might experience at Easter. For the women who went to the tomb, and for all of Jesus’s disciples, Easter Day had begun with deep
John 20 11 but Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. 13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 At this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realise that it was Jesus. 15 “Woman,” he said, “why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
Easter Day began with the sadness of grief – death is very sad! Losing somebody you love is very sad! It makes you cry! More than their personal grief at the death of a friend, the women and the disciples were sad because the death of Jesus meant the end of all their hopes. They believed Jesus would be their Saviour. But now he was dead and buried. Their hope of salvation and forgiveness and eternal life had died with Jesus on the cross.
Then when the angel announced to the women that Jesus was not dead, but alive, came another emotion.
The women were completeluy taken by surprise.
6 ‘Don’t be alarmed,’ he said. ‘You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. …
8 Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb.
The women were alarmed and bewildered, so much so that to begin with they couldn’t even tell anybody what they had seen and heard. We know the ending of the Easter Story, so we aren’t surprised. Some people even like to read the end of a book before beginning so that they can’t be surprised. But all the best stories are the ones where even when you have read them all the way through you just can’t see the ending coming! Nobody expected the happy ending of the Easter Story. Dead men DO NOT come back to life again! Everybody was surprised!
So we should not be surprised that the disciples did not believe the stories the women told. We shouldn’t be puzzled when people who don’t know Jesus for themselves don’t believe in the resurrection and don’t understand what Easter is all about! The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the greatest surprise in history! As well as surprise, there was also
Matthew tells us
Matthew 28 8 So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples.
They were afraid, but they were also filled with joy! All the disciples felt the same when Jesus appeared to them risen from the dead.
John 20 19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
Of course they were filled with joy that their master and friend Jesus was alive and not dead. More than that, we are filled with joy because the resurrection meant that Jesus’s sacrifice for sin had been accepted – we can all be forgiven because Jesus has died and has risen. And because Jesus has defeated death we will share his resurrection life. We do not need to be afraid of death. Because he lives we will live also!
Easter day is good news! The resurrection of Jesus Christ is wonderful news for all mankind. God has accepted the sacrifice of His Son on the cross. Our sins can be forgiven. We who believe share in Jesus’s resurrection life, eternal life, life in all its fullness. We don’t need to be afraid of dying any longer because Jesus has defeated death. Jesus has opened the door to heaven for everybody who follows Him. Of course, Easter is good news and fills us with joy.
But Easter is also very scary! One Good Friday after the March of Witness I was talking to a lady who said how sad it was that so many people were just going about their everyday business on Good Friday, shopping, and driving around. How sad it was they did not recognise what a special day God Friday was. She said she wished God would do something spectacular and dramatic so that everybody would know He exists – something which would mean that nobody could doubt that God is there.
But God has already done that on the first Easter! Jesus Christ is risen from the dead! That is God’s proof to the world. The resurrection is all the proof the world will get and all the proof the world needs that God exists and that Jesus really was the Son of God. More than that, the resurrection of Jesus is God’s proof that Judgement Day is coming and that God commands all people everywhere to repent, to turn away from their sins and come back to God! So the resurrection of Christ is scary. Because dead people don’t come back to life – but Jesus did! And there is God’s proof to the world that He exists, and our world which is running away from God so fast SHOULD be scared of the God they have rejected. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
We can become too familiar with the story of Easter. We know the happy ending so well that it does not surprise us or amaze us any more. If those first disciples were terrified, bewildered, frightened, then so should we be! Yes, filled with joy and excited and also surprised. But if we have understood the story properly, we, like those women who first discovered the empty tomb, will be just a little bit afraid!
We can only know the real joy of Easter after we have experienced the deep sadness at Jesus’s death and the fear and the total unexpected surprise of the resurrection!