In Matthew 28:5 and 6, we read this: “And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.”
What are your fears today? Fear is debilitating. When we are afraid, we freeze and we shrink back from what we are called to do in life. Sometimes fear comes because we are suddenly confronted with something that seems threatening. Other times fear comes because of a memory or an imagination that we have that makes us afraid.
Are you fearful because of your sin? Does your sin make you want to hide from God, from the judgment of God? Are you fearful because of the power of sin, and are you afraid that it may overcome you? Or is it, perhaps, the future that makes you afraid. Tomorrow is unknown, the future is unpredictable, there are dark roads ahead—will you be able to have the strength to persevere? Or maybe it is the fear of something in your past, something terrible that has happened to you, and the thought of it or the memory of it or the thought of it happening again makes you shudder. Or, there may be relational fears—the fear of being alone or the fear of losing a loved one that you have. Perhaps it is your responsibilities that make you afraid. Will you ever have the strength to go on and to get through what lies before you in life?
Fear not ye, Jesus is risen. That is the word of the angel in our text today.
On the morning of Jesus’ resurrection, a group of five or so women came to Jesus’ tomb. And the message that the angel met them with was, “Fear not.”
Who were these women, and what were their fears? Throughout His ministry, these were the women who had been very close to Jesus and followed Him and His disciples and ministered to His daily needs. Among them was Mary Magdalene, out of whom Jesus had cast demons, and also Jesus’ mother, and His aunt, and other close relatives.
Just a few days earlier, these women had witnessed the trial of their beloved Savior and Friend. They heard Him condemned to death. When He was led away to be crucified, they followed at a distance, and they stood afar off listening while the hammers pounded the nails through their Master’s hands and feet. They listened to the voice of the mocking crowds. They heard the cries of Jesus from the cross. Through the three hours of darkness, they lingered. Then they watched as the soldiers came to break the legs of those who had been crucified. Shortly after this, they witnessed Nicodemus and Joseph taking down the body of Jesus and they followed to see where Jesus was laid. That was Friday afternoon.
Saturday was the Sabbath, so they stayed home.
Now it is early Sunday morning, dawn, as the day is breaking. They come to finish the work of burying their Savior, and they bring with them spices that they will use to anoint the body of their beloved Lord.
What is it that moves them to come, and to come so soon? Certainly it is love; they loved this One. You saw this in the anointing of Jesus’ feet just a week prior to this by one of these women. Simon the prophet had said to Jesus’ mother: “A sword will pierce through your own soul also.” This is the experience of the love of these women. So they could not sit around. They were moved with love to take this initiative and to go out and complete the burial of the Lord.
Yet, what courage they had. That is explained by their faith. A Roman guard was at the tomb. A stone was in front of the mouth of the tomb. Yet, here they go with courage and commitment. That is because of their faith in the One who had died. Yes, they were confused and their faith was weak, but how they loved and trusted in this One!
We can understand a little bit of how they felt and what they experienced at this time, how sad they must have been. The One who had died was not just a close friend, but this was their leader, this was the One in whom they had put their hopes. How confused they must have felt. Later in this day, the two travelers on the road to Emmaus would express their confusion to Jesus Himself, and these women must have had the same confusion. How fearful they must have been about some things. What now will happen to the followers of Jesus? They put Him to death, what will they do to us?
And now the earth trembled and there was an angel present. This was not the same kind of fear that the keepers had and because of which they became as dead men. Yet, this added to their confusion and their fear. What a mixture of emotions they must have had this morning. Then we see them come to the tomb and we see the grace of God come to them.
About the miracles—first, why does God send miracles? Why does He send these miracles at the time of Jesus’ resurrection? It is to confirm the truth of the resurrection. An earthquake—how appropriate that an earthquake should come to shake the place where Jesus had been buried. He was declared by the resurrection to be the Son of God with power, we read in Romans 1. That is what the earthquake signified. And the open tomb—the open tomb was not so that Jesus could get out of the tomb after He was raised from the dead. No, He was able in His glorious body to pass through walls. The open tomb was to show that the tomb was empty.
Then, grace in the heavenly messenger and what he says as well. There was an angel when they came. He came with a message of grace to these women. Look at his words: “Fear not ye.” That is personal. That is addressed to these women. He knows that they are fearful and that they are afraid and that they are confused. So God sends this messenger: “Don’t be afraid.” Yes, the Jews and the leaders of the Jews should be afraid. Yes, the soldiers should tremble and become as dead men. But “you, don’t be afraid.” He continues, “Don’t be afraid: for I know that ye seek Jesus.” He knows why they have come. How does the angel know this? It is because God has told him. God knows why they have come. God knows their fears.
What a messenger. Sometimes angels would come in the form of a man, disguised, as it were. But this one, verse 3 tells us, had a face that was like lightning. It was like the face of Moses, who had seen God. His raiment was white like snow, holy because he had come from the presence of God. There was no mistaking—this was a heavenly messenger. They spoke with him; they had conversation with him. The keepers trembled. How remarkable! These women talked to him. This was a part of their courage. It was because they wanted to see Jesus.
So the messenger continues: “I know that ye seek Jesus.” What sympathy in those words. Sympathy is to enter into the experience of another. God knows, the Son knows, the angel knows what these women feel. God uses all the resources of heaven that are at His disposal to come and to minister to these needy women. He knows their love, their faith, their zeal, their fears, their anxieties, their confusion. He is touched with the feeling of their infirmities. He says, “I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified.” How those words must have jarred these women. After someone has been through a painful experience, we want to be very careful in the way that we speak to them. If someone is going through cancer, we do not want to talk about the disease of cancer and how difficult it can be. Or, someone has been in a car accident. We want to be careful. How jarring these words must have been to the fresh wounds that these women had. “Ye seek Jesus, which was crucified.” This calls to their mind the awful experience that they had witnessed—the horrific death of Jesus Christ. But the angel can do that because he has a message that is the answer to exactly this fear and this experience. “I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here.” Luke adds that the angel explains those words this way: “Why seek ye the living among the dead?” “He is not here: he is risen.” Why seek the living here in the place of the dead?
He is risen. That verb form has the idea of someone who has entered into a permanent state of being. He is risen—a constant change has taken place. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is that. He entered into His glorious state and He continues in that state. It was the power of God triune that raised Him from the dead. He was raised with power. The Bible explains the resurrection from three points of view—that the Father raised His Son from the dead; that Jesus Himself arose from the dead; and that He was raised from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit. What an immense miracle was the resurrection of Jesus Christ! All the resources of the divine Being are involved in this great work. There are only a few other miracles in the Scriptures that are described this way. The creation: in the beginning the Father created; the Son was the Word by whom He created; and the Spirit moved on the face of the waters. Or the virgin birth of Jesus: the Holy Ghost would come upon the virgin Mary and she would conceive and bring forth one who would be called the Son of God. Or the work of salvation in a similar way. That is the importance of this event. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is as important as creation, as important as the incarnation, as important as the work of salvation. This is central in the gospel. This is the gospel that the New Testament church preaches. “He is not here, for He is risen.”
Then the angel says one more thing to the women: “He is not here: for he is risen, as he said.” This is a reminder to them of what Jesus had promised before His death. We might have expected the angel to rebuke them. Instead, this is a message of comfort and encouragement to these women who are so confused and afraid. There is a mildness. Their unbelief is rebuked but forgiven. Luke tells us in Luke 24:8 that, at the angel’s word, these women remembered what Jesus had said.
Then the angel, having spoken this beautiful message, invites these women to come. “Come,” he says, “see the place where the Lord lay.” Matthew does not give us any more detail than this. He wants the emphasis to fall on this: that the tomb was open and empty. “Come, see the place where the Lord lay. He is not here, he is risen.” The empty tomb is the proof to these women that Jesus is risen from the dead. Notice one thing here in what the angel says: “Come, see the place where the Lord lay.” “Lord” is a name that refers to sovereignty and to rule. It refers to Jesus as the one who has the victory, who has overcome, who exercises dominion. The one who is our Savior, the one who is our Christ, is also our Lord. This is especially His resurrection title. The angel’s calling Him Lord means He has overcome the grave and He rules over sin and death. Later in this day the disciples will exclaim to each other: “The Lord is risen; He is risen indeed.” When Thomas, a week later, sees Jesus, he will say, “My Lord and my God!” You see, this name emphasizes that Jesus has the victory. And what a victory it was!
Perhaps you stood at a cemetery before. It is a somber place. I have stood in cemeteries, at gravesides, with beloved believers, and we have wept together. It is a quiet place. But here the angel speaks with a thundering voice. He says, “Come, come on a grand tour of this cemetery, of this grave. I will show you something marvelous. He is not here. He is risen.”
Luke indicates that there was more than one angel, that, in fact, when the women came into the tomb they saw a second angel. John tells us that these angels sat one at the head and one at the foot of the place where Jesus was laid. John also gives us the details of the place where He had lain—the eyewitness account of Peter and John and what they saw in the tomb, the clothes lying wrapped together as they had been around the body of Jesus, and then the linen cloth folded separately, showing the care and personal touch of the Savior. Perhaps these women, who knew Jesus so well, knew His habits and would see this personal touch. This was not a pile of clothes that someone had hurriedly gotten out of but, carefully, the Savior had folded this napkin and laid it aside. This is what they saw.
He is risen. He is risen indeed! And they hurried back to the disciples with the message of the resurrection of the Savior, with joy in their hearts. You see, that message that the angel gave was the end of their confusion and the end of their fears and their anxiety.
So it is for us today. In all our fears, in all our confusion, in all our anxiety, in all our questions—this is the hopeful message that the angel brings: “Fear not ye; He is not here, He is risen.” Think about your fears. What are they? Is one of them your sin? If you have a true sense of your sin and a true sense of the majesty and the holiness of God and even a real understanding of the reason that Jesus had to die and the price that He had to pay for sin—well, of course, then you will fear before God. There is the fear of what sin deserves. But the resurrection answers these fears. It tells us that Jesus Christ paid the full price for our sins. Because He is risen, we are forgiven. His resurrection is the testimony to us today that all of our sins are gone. In the resurrection, God Himself put the “Amen” on all of Jesus’ work. He said in His suffering at the very end, “It is finished.” Now, in the resurrection, God says, as it were, “It is finished, indeed!” I Corinthians 15 puts it this way in the negative: “If Christ be not risen…your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins…. But now is Christ risen.” You are not in your sins yet. Your faith is not vain. The point is that the price has been paid for sins and the victory has been won. We do not need to hide from the wrath of God, for Jesus Christ has paid the price.
Or perhaps it is your sins from this point of view: the fear of being overwhelmed by the power of remaining sin in your life or the temptations of Satan and the world around you. The resurrection means we do not have to be afraid. Jesus is risen from the dead. He has given us new life, life in which there is victory and strength and perseverance. Just as Jesus Himself has entered into the permanent glorious state of His resurrection, so He will do for us, and the good work that He has begun in us He will perform till the day of Jesus Christ. Fear not, He is risen.
Or there are other fears that we have—the fears of the unknown future, fears because of health or financial struggles or politics or the affairs of the nations, fears because we have children and we worry about their future in the end times, fears because we know that the church of God will face persecution in the future. Perhaps there is even this fear, that you have something that is good and you love it and you hold to it very tightly and you fear that you will lose it. Jesus knew that. He said to His disciples: “Take no thought for the morrow.” He is saying in that that the Father has sovereign rule over all the affairs of your life in the future. We know that now, because Jesus is risen from the dead. As the one who is risen from the dead, He has been given this dominion and this power over all things. Everything in the present is in His hands. Everything in the future is in His hands. And the hands of Jesus are good hands and loving hands and strong hands.
Ephesians 1:20ff. is talking about the power of God and the demonstration of that power, and then it says this: “which he wrought in Christ when he raised him from the dead and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principalities and power and might and dominion; and every name that is named not only in this world, but also in that which is to come, and hath put all things under his feet and gave him to be the head over all things to the church.” That means, for the advantage of the church. Jesus rules over all things as the resurrected, ascended Lord, in His glory, for the sake of His church. Fear not.
I think of the words that Jesus says to His disciples in Luke 12:32. He is speaking to them, as they are representative of the church. He says, “Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” He describes the church in the world as defenseless, a little flock, sheep, small. “Fear not,” He says. The Father’s good pleasure is to give you the kingdom. How does the Father give you the kingdom? He does it through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
Or, perhaps, there is for you the real fear of death and the grave, the prospect of death. As believers, we do not necessarily have a fear of the judgment, but the experience of death itself is fearful. Disease, old age, and there is nothing so painful as the tearing apart of our existence—the breaking apart of body and soul. Perhaps, in your sickness, you imagine your own death and you tremble at the thought. “Fear not,” that is the message of the angel, “Jesus is risen.” We do not need to be afraid of death. Jesus entered into the grave, and all the suffering of death, to transform it, to make it a place of rest, to make death a servant that will bring us into the glory of the presence of God. Death is described in Scripture as sleeping, sleeping in Jesus with hope. We fall asleep in Jesus in the hope of the bodily resurrection, seeing death as a transition into the very presence of God.
So, this is the victory note of the resurrection of Jesus Christ: “Fear not ye, He is risen!” That is the end of all our fears. You can take any fear that you have and look at it through faith in Jesus Christ and be able to overcome that fear.
So today, as we confess that Jesus is risen from the dead (and remember this on this Resurrection Sunday, the first day of the week), let us stand, by faith, at the tomb of Jesus and hear the voice of the angel: “Fear not ye, He is not here; for He is risen.” Let us tour the tomb, by faith, and see it empty and see the empty grave clothes and see Jesus risen victorious. He has overcome the grave, He has overcome sin, He has overcome Satan. He is Lord of all. He will overcome every obstacle. He is able to save to the uttermost. He will bring us, in the end, to glory.
Do not be afraid.
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for the wonder and the victory of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Fill us with an assurance that, because He is Lord over all, we do not need to be afraid. But all things are in His hand, for our sake. So we pray that we may have this confidence as we look forward, and even as we face the prospect of death ourselves, to know the victory that is ours in Jesus Christ. We ask it for His sake, Amen.