THE GARDEN OF GLORY CALL TO US, "DON'T FEAR!"
Dear redeemed in the blood of the Lamb, and made certain by his resurrection from the dead,
Ruth Dillow of Humboldt, Kansas was grieving over the death of her son, Pfc. Clayton Carpenter. On a Thursday, during Gulf War I, two army officers visited a garment factory where she worked and told her that her son had been killed the day before when he stepped on a land mine. The grief was unbearable.
On Saturday Mrs. Dillow received a phone call. On the other end of the phone came a voice, “Mom, I’m alive.” Her son, Pfc. Clayton Carpenter, was calling from a field hospital. He had indeed been wounded but he didn’t die. He said he didn’t know how the mistake was made - but it happened. Ruth Dillow reacted as you would think. She jumped up and down. She went on to say, “It was such a shock. I was afraid somebody was playing with my mind. I asked him questions he would only know the answers to.” When he answered she knew it was her son.
This wasn’t the only time in war something like this ever happened. It is rare, but it happens. Imagine, however, from a broken heart to an ecstatic heart.
While the city of Jerusalem had turned against Jesus by Good Friday and only a handful of friends had their hearts broken, that all changed on Easter morning. When Jesus called out, “Father, into your hands I commit my Spirit” and bowed his head death, a handful grieved and mourned. Then came Easter and the message, “He is risen!” There were those who had to pinch themselves to see if they dreaming. Their grief was gone. Their fears were gone.
We finish our Lenten and Easter theme of From Garden to Glory as we visit the garden in which Jesus was buried and we hear the angel’s message, “Don’t Be Afraid.”
Right off the bat we see how women played a very important role in the first Easter story. They were the first witnesses. “After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.” From other accounts we know there were other women who awoke that gray dawn morning to embalm the body of Jesus. Jesus had died approximately 36 hours previously, parts of three days. After his death Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimithea took Jesus’ body and embalmed it with about 75 pounds of spices. Joseph and Nicodemus did a hurry up job because the Sabbath was fast approaching. Touching a corpse on the Sabbath was forbidden. These women had come to do the job properly.
But they were confronted with a huge problem. How were they going to get into the grave? How were they going to roll that stone away from the grave? They would never be able to move it on their own.
But the Lord took care of that detail. “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. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.”
We make no apologies when we talk about the first Easter and the miracles after miracles. First of all, there was the earthquake, then there was the appearance of the angel as a bright light; then there were the guards seeing the holy angel and fainting in fear; then the angel rolling away the stone. But the greatest miracle of all is summarized in the first ever Easter message delivered by the angel, "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.”
What did they see? That’s the point. All they saw was the burial clothes. The body was gone. What in the world? The angel gave the reason why, “He is not here. He has risen!” I wonder if the women thought about the young ma from the city of Nain that Jesus raised from the dead. I wonder if they thought about that daughter of Jairus Jesus raised. I wonder if they thought about Lazarus. Well, he did it again, but this time he raised himself. Miracle of miracles!
Or was it a miracle? Many say there is a basic and fundamental question that needs our attention. For a physical resurrection to take place all natural laws must be suspended. That, very frankly, cannot happen. A dead person was not raiseable then, nor is it possible now. Yet something must have happened on that first Easter morning to ignite this thing that has found its way around the world called Christianity.
Maybe someone stole the body and made it appear like he had risen. Yet the Scriptures present to us a different picture. If grave robbers had been responsible, would they have stuck around to painstakingly remove the strips of cloths that covered his body? Wouldn’t they have taken the body and run? Myrrh and aloes were the used to embalm the body and the myrrh sticks to the body like tar. No thief would have worked so tediously at the risk of getting caught. One of the accounts also tells us that the burial cloth that wrapped his head was neatly folded. Would rushed grave robbers have done that? Hardly! You know why? The body wasn’t stolen!
Maybe Jesus wasn’t dead! But the heathen soldiers who took Jesus down from the cross would never agree with you. The soldiers were commanded to break the legs of those three criminals to hurry up the death process. They bypassed Jesus because they knew without a doubt he was dead. They slit his side and water and blood spewed forth. Besides, who could survive the infection of the open wounds on his back and the open sores that were drilled through his hands by the spikes that held him to the cross?
We could go on with all the objections and explanations that skeptics use to explain what happened, but the simple fact is Jesus rose miraculously from the dead. Not only did Jesus prove that he had risen by not being in the grave, but also by showing Himself to be alive and well. Matthew says, “So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. "Greetings," he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him.”
This was one of the first appearances he made after the resurrection. The Scriptures record up to fourteen. St. Paul says that over 500 people saw Jesus after he had risen from the dead. Those 500 then told the message to the world. In that fact alone we receive the most convincing fact that Jesus arose from the dead. Of the 500 plus who eventually saw him alive were the disciples who had been ashamed of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. They all ran away. Of the 500 was Peter was who was so embarrassed by Jesus that he denied he knew Jesus on oath three times with very emphatic language.
Yet look what happened after they had been witness to his resurrection on that first Easter. They were no longer embarrassed or ashamed. They were courageous and preached. They were imprisoned and beaten. They died because they refused to deny what they had seen and heard. In other words, look at the disciples who were with Jesus and come to one conclusion – the resurrection is true.
Not only do we know it is true but the resurrection tells us we don’t have to be afraid. It is the cornerstone teaching of the Christian church. St. Paul made that clear. “If Christ be not raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is useless.” If the resurrection is not true we really have no business or reason to get together. If the resurrection is not true then it is time to sell this building and land. If the resurrection is not true, then stay in bed on Easter morning instead of getting here so early to praise him.
Let’s look at what the resurrection of Jesus means to us. First, Jesus’ resurrection shows he is the Son of God. Only God could say about his life, “I have the power to lay it down and I have the power to take it up again.” He is our God and Savior. He is alive and well and is watching over us, so don’t be afraid.
Secondly, the resurrection proves that whatever he says is absolutely true. Anyone who says, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will rebuild it” and keeps that promise, can certainly be trusted to keep all the promises he makes. And he makes a lot of them. There are great promises that chase away our fears – promises like the forgiveness of all of our sins, his abiding presence, his providential care, making all things work for good, answering our prayer to name a few. Those promises really address a lot of fears we have, don’t they?
Thirdly, the resurrection promises that all our sins are forgiven. Had Jesus’ body rotted in the grave and had he been just another statistic, there would be no proof whatsoever that what Jesus came to do was done. The Bible says, “Jesus was put to death for our offenses and raised again for our justification.” His death paid for our sins but his resurrection confirms that we are forgiven. Members have heard this from me again and again. The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the receipt that says all has been paid in full. No sins, no fear of the Lord. Not one single sin slipped by. .
Fourthly, the resurrection promises to every believer in Christ that the last day, Judgment Day, is the best day of all. The Lord promises that all will be raised from the dead like he was. All believers in Christ will be given perfect and glorified bodies like his. In other words it doesn’t matter whether people died as a martyr or in a car accident; it makes no difference if there was a violent death or whether death took place in the sleep, on Judgment Day there will be no scarred faces, no severed limbs, and no cancerous growths. “He shall change our evil bodies and make them like unto his glorious body.” We will be part of one big and grand reunion of not only our relatives who died in the Lord but with all who died in the Lord. We will meet the great heroes of faith from the Bible. We will meet that thief who came to know Jesus in his last hours. Best of all we will meet Jesus himself, along with the Father and the Spirit of God... “Because I live you will live also.”
What do we do with these blessings? Let me remind you what Jesus told the women, “Then go quickly and tell his disciples: 'He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.' Now I have told you." It’s time to go and tell. It’s time to tell the unbeliever that the resurrection of Jesus Christ of divine origin of the Christianity. It is time to remind the believer that we can be comforted. It is time to tell anyone who is afraid that they don’t need to be. Jesus, who once was dead, is alive and well and promises “Because I will you will too.” You don’t ever have to be afraid, no matter what happens. Jesus lives.