16 April 2017
Text: Mark 16:1-8 (Job 19:23-27, 1 Cor 15:51-57
In the name of + Jesus. Amen.
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
If you ask Lutherans all around the world, “What is the First Commandment?” they will recite, “You shall have no other gods.” Then if you ask them, “What does this mean?” They will reply in whatever language is spoken in their part of the world: “We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.”
Loving God and trusting God are things that are easy to understand. Of course, God loves us, so we love Him in return. Of course, God is faithful, so we trust Him implicitly. But what is it about God, that the first item on the list is “fear”?
Why should we fear someone that we love and trust? Several times in the Psalms we are told that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Not the love of the Lord, nor faith in Him, but fear of Him.
As we get to know God through the Scriptures we learn that we shouldn’t fear Him because He is petty and mean, but rather because He is righteous and just, and we are anything but. We shouldn’t fear Him because He is sadistic and loves to see us hurt – far from it. That’s more our attitude toward others. The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom because to fear God is to acknowledge His holiness and our unrighteousness. And it is in understanding this reality, that the entire Bible makes sense, that the Christian faith falls into place, and that we can really grow in our love and trust of God.
One of my former professors observed a few days ago that what plagues our culture and society more than anything (and we, the church are included in this observation), is that we no longer fear God. I agree with him. For we have reduced God to a fuzzy idea, a superstitious belief not in an Almighty One, but an All Tolerant One. We don’t feel the need to repent, because God is love. And since we are saved by grace alone, we don’t have to work hard in the kingdom. We can be lazy and just take and take without ever doing our duty as believers. We don’t need to support our brothers and sisters by being at Divine Service, because we are instead thinking about whether or not “we get something out of it.” It’s all about us. And if we think we “get more out of” watching TV preachers or looking at facebook stories about religion, or reading our Bible at home instead, then that’s what we do rather than obeying the Lord’s command and invitation. And since God is a big pushover who doesn’t ask anything of us, we don’t fear His wrath at our self-justifications, that we know deep down inside, are wrong.
As Luther says, “We should fear His wrath and not do anything against” the commandments. The disciples of Jesus saw firsthand the wrath of God, as did the chief priests, the scribes, the soldiers, the Pharisees, the crucified robbers, Pontius Pilate, Barabbas, and all of the witness of the crucifixion, friends and enemies alike. They saw the skies darken, the earthquake, the bodies of some of the saints emerging from the graves, the curtain of the temple torn from top to bottom. They saw Old Testament prophecies fulfilled in real time. They saw blood and gore and torture, the worst miscarriage of justice in history, and the confirmation that the most righteous Man the world has ever seen, was truly dead, as blood and water poured from a gash in his chest made by a Roman spear. They saw the bloodied and mangled corpse of the One who raised Lazarus from the dead, the One who fed five thousand with five loaves and two fishes, the One who cast out countless demons and cured myriads of the sick – hastily laid out on a slab in a garden tomb as the High Sabbath Day came rushing in with the setting of the sun.
Good Friday was a frightful time, a day when the fear of God was on full display, and the wrath of God was poured out upon the Lamb.
But we are now at Easter morning. Jesus has risen! He has borne the wrath of God for us, and now He lives! What is there to be afraid of?
It has always struck me as ironic that the last word in the Easter Gospel reading is: “afraid.” It is said about the Marys, the very first witnesses of the resurrection: “And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”
After all the terrors that they saw on Good Friday, why are they afraid now?
Actually, it makes perfect sense. Fear is a natural reaction to being jolted out of a normal situation. Our hearts race, our breathing quickens, and adrenaline courses our veins, making us tremble, and filling us with nervous energy. This is how our bodies react to the unknown, to things that perplex us, to situations that unnerve us.
The Marys went to the tomb on Sunday morning expecting to find the body of Jesus so they could complete the embalming ritual. The first thing that set them on edge was that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. It was very large, so this was no accident. Had robbers come? Would they encounter a group of violent men hiding inside? Their hearts must have begun to race.
They went inside and found “a young man sitting on the right side dressed in a white robe.” We are explicitly told that “they were alarmed.” The word translated as “alarmed” could be thought of as “stunned” or “gob-smacked.” The angel immediately told them not to be alarmed. He also told them the good news: “He has risen; He is not here.” He showed them so that they could see with their own eyes.
Now, dear friends, if you could only put yourself in their place. Can you imagine going to the cemetery and finding the tomb of one of your loved ones open, and an angel were to appear and tell you such a thing?
Imagine the power and might of God to raise Jesus from the dead, to send an angel to tell the good news, and ponder that these two humble women have been chosen to bring this most extraordinary news in the history of the world to the world by breaking the news to the disciples.
In the span of seconds, their lives have changed. The entire world has changed. History itself has changed. Death has been conquered. Sin has been destroyed. The devil has been defeated. In spite of the workings of the mighty Roman Empire and the powerful chief priests and Council of Judea – our Lord has walked right out of the tomb –under the noses of a guard detail, in spite of the governor’s seal placed on the door. And even before the stone was rolled away, Jesus was alive, and had departed what was supposed to be the place where His body would decay, where one day His bones would be collected and put into a box, eventually to be forgotten in a cave somewhere.
Not today, dear friends. Not today. And not any day. Those days are over. We have the promise of the resurrection of our own flesh.
For God is in charge. God’s will has been done. The love of God has raised Jesus from the dead and has cleansed us from our sins, from our mortality, and from our bondage to the evil one. The faithfulness of God has proven flawless, as the will of God from before the foundation of the world was carried out, according to the Scriptures, by the word of the prophets. Jesus has come, has conquered, and now lives again. And so it is fitting that we love and trust in God above all things.
But let us not forget the healthy fear that the Marys experienced on that greatest and most wondrous day. Their fear was a holy fear, borne of the knowledge that God is almighty and that He is carrying out His will – and even using them as His humble instruments to do so. They are dealing with the mightiest power of the universe, the One against whom death itself is ineffectual and the seeming power of the grave is nothing more than an annoyance to be swept away by the nail-scarred hand of Him who has overcome.
Let us celebrate the resurrection! Let us hurl defiant curses against the evil one! Let us say to death, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” Let us praise God with great joy! Let us love God all the more as the one who loves us and all of His creation. Let us trust in God that His plan is always good, even when we cannot see its inner workings, knowing that our dear Father only intends our benefit.
And let us also fear God, dear friends, knowing that His power is without limit, that He has saved us as a free gift for the purpose not that we should be lazy, but that we should work all the more fervently, with gratitude for all the blessings that He has bestowed upon us: even our own resurrection in the fullness of time.
The fear of the Lord is indeed the beginning of wisdom.
Let us “fear, love, and trust in God above all things,” with “boldness and confidence asking Him as dear children ask their dear father.” Let us joyfully sing the praises of our risen Lord for all eternity, for we know that our Redeemer lives. And let us pray that the Holy Spirit would direct us to carry out our own labor of love for the Kingdom with the obedient fear of the Marys, ready to live out our vocations in the church in a life that will have no end!
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.