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Fear Not, for Christ is Risen! April 20, 2014

Posted by sandhandrews in Sermons.
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Matthew 28:1-10

Easter Sunday

April 20, 2014

 

Focus: God’s glorious earthquake has destroyed death.

Function: That the hearers do not fear the Lord’s appearance.

Structure: Controlling Metaphor.

 

Fear Not, for Christ is Risen!

 

Two years ago, I made a mistake, and I learned my lesson.  Two years ago on Easter morning, I was responsible for helping with Easter breakfast.  As the vicar, the intern of Immanuel Lutheran Church, I had volunteered our young adults to step up and fill a void.  Somebody had to cook Easter breakfast, and I figured it was a good way to get these people involved and connected with the rest of the congregation.

And then the night before, the men’s group showed us the pancake griddle in the basement kitchen.  Maybe you’ve seen one or used one like it yourself.  This thing stood a foot tall, about four feet wide and a couple feet deep.  Made of steel.  I mean, you can make a lot of pancakes on a griddle this size!  And then they brought over the propane tank, two of them, and hooked them up for us.  One large gas griddle with four burners underneath.

Easter morning came, and the young adults looked at that thing that was easily older than any of us and said in unison, “I’m not lighting that.”  So I stepped up and did what had to be done.  I turned on the burners and then started the propane.  And BOOOOOM!  I stood there a little dazed for a moment and when I finally collected myself again, I remember being thankful that I had short hair.  Having lit it incorrectly, I had created my own small explosion that singed off most of my hair.

As I wandered around greeting church members that morning, complete of course with my new hair color, more than one asked me what that loud noise had been.  One poor lady even asked me if I had felt the earthquake, too. Lesson learned: don’t do anything dangerous when you’re the guy preaching the Easter morning.

Have you ever felt an earthquake?  I asked our Wee Care kids that this week, and they all looked at me like I was making it up.  “What’s an earthquake?” they asked.  That’s understandable, as Minnesotans just aren’t used to the earth rumbling beneath their feet.  The most recent was a minor 2.9 magnitude quake in 2013, which doesn’t feel much different than if a semi-truck drove past your home.  And we’d have to go all the way back to 1975 to find an earthquake that actually caused any damage at all.

But that’s not the case worldwide.  In 2010, an earthquake ravaged Haiti, killing 316,000 people.  In 1964, a 9.2 magnitude quake hit Alaska and caused a tsunami in its aftermath.  It claimed the lives of 131 people and destroyed $2.3 billion worth of property.  Earthquakes are violent and they bring destruction.  It’s no surprise that people fear them.

We like our science today.  We like to explain away all the things that nature does.  Earthquakes?  Sure, no problem.  Earthquakes are nothing more than a couple of tectonic plates shifting under the earth’s surface and causing some friction. We like to take God out of it whenever we can.  But that’s not the way of the Scriptures.

In the Scriptures, earthquakes mean something.  Often times, they were a sign that the Lord Yahweh Himself was speaking.  We see this with Moses on Mount Sinai, with a rebellious Israelite named Korah, with David in the Psalms, with the prophet Haggai, and with the Apostle John and the sixth and seventh seals in the book of Revelation.  And earlier in Matthew, Jesus tells us that earthquakes are also one of many signs of the end times, of His return.

Sure, earthquakes can simply be our broken world showing its brokenness.  But often, they can also be God working among us.  This is certainly true of the two earthquakes in Holy Week, as God reveals to us His power and His authority over all of creation.

You see, Holy Week gives us another way to look at earthquakes: do not be afraid.  Those are the words that ring out in our text this morning.  In the wake of an earthquake, in the midst of the appearance of an angel, we hear those words: “Do not be afraid.”

Matthew reports for us two different earthquakes during Holy Week.  The first he reported happened on Good Friday, just as Jesus breathed His last on the cross.  He tells us:

 And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split.  The tombs also were opened.  And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many.  When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with fear and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!”

 

Just imagine the scene.  Darkness covered the land for hours.  The earth shook, rocks splitting, the dead rising to life.  These men would have known fear, they were terrified.  And who can blame them? They just realized that the Man they helped kill was the very Son of God, Jesus the Christ.

And then Jesus’ body is taken down from the cross, wrapped in a linen cloth and placed in a tomb.  A large stone is then rolled into the opening, and together with a little wax and Pilate’s own insignia from his ring they sealed the tomb.  And when some reported to him that Jesus had once said that He would rise again on the third day, Pilate ordered soldiers to be placed at the tomb, to make sure no one stole the body and claimed that Jesus had come back from the dead.

And now, here we are on the third day.  The Sabbath is over and the time has come.  And again, Matthew reports an earthquake:

Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.  And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.  His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow.  And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men.

 

Just imagine the scene.  It’s early in the morning, the sun has not yet broken the horizon.  You’re standing there with the other guards watching over the tomb.  Today’s the day, you say to yourselves, today’s the day when His disciples will make their move.  Today, they will try to steal the body.

And then suddenly the earth beneath your feet begins to shake violently, causing you to lose your balance and fall to the ground.  And then you see something descending from the sky.  At first, it looks like a lightning bolt coming directly at you, for a moment you fear a painful death.  But quickly you watch as this lightning moves the stone from the opening of the tomb, and then sits on top of it.  You had no idea lightning could do that.  And how on earth are we ever going to explain this to Pilate?!  Fear, those guards were filled with fear.  And who could blame them?  Who could blame them for passing out?

And yet, it’s in the midst of these two quakes that we hear God say: “Do not be afraid!”  A holy angel that looks like lightning, a resurrected Christ?  For those who hate Him, yes, there is reason to fear.  Fear of what a holy God might do to them in revenge.  But for those who believe in Him, there’s nothing to fear.

For the earthquake that is the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is a glorious one.  It’s a glorious earthquake that has been felt around the world for centuries.  The aftershocks have been changing lives, altering the course of human history for the better.  The earthquake that is Christ’s resurrection has caused destruction…it’s destroyed death.

Do not be afraid.  Those are the words spoken on Easter morning.  Those are the words that Mary and Mary heard that day.  That’s where the resurrection of Christ begins, but it hasn’t stopped.  It’s spread, the quake has spread.  From the women at the tomb, it hit the disciples, it impacted Samaria and Galilee, and then shook the Mediterranean and the world beyond.

Even today, the earthquake of Christ’s resurrection still rumbles on.  Have you felt it in your life?  Have you felt it shake the foundations of your life, changing your values and the things that mean something to you?  Because, as Paul loves to tell us, in Christ we are a new creation.  When the Holy Spirit creates faith in you, your life is changed, changed for the better.

The people around us look to us with fear.  Fear of sickness and pain, fear of misery and suffering, fear of death and the grave.  And often, Satan tricks us into falling into that fear, too.  He makes us like the guards at the tomb, “like dead men,” paralyzed with fear in our lives.  Fear of loss, fear of rejection, fear of illness, fear of failure, and the fear of death.  Because to the world around us, death is the end.  Death is nothing but grief without hope.  But for us, because of the earthquake, we know that’s not true.

We have certainly felt the quake here at St. John’s in the last month.  Like the earthquake at the crucifixion, the same quake that opened the tombs and brought the dead back to life, so is the earthquake of Christ’s resurrection.  Death cannot defeat us.  The grave cannot hold us.  That’s why we turn funerals into celebrations, because we know that they will rise again.  We know that in the Last Day, Christ will open their tombs and raise them to new life once again.

Through faith, through your Christian life, through your baptism that has united you with Christ in His death and in His resurrection, and through the life of the church here and around the world, the earthquake of Christ’s resurrection rumbles on.  It continues to spread.

And this is where we join with the angel and with Christ in saying, “Do not be afraid.”  The earthquake will not harm you nor destroy you.  It’s target is death, and it has destroyed it.  That’s the Easter message.  That’s the power of Christ’s resurrection.  Death and the grave have been defeated.  And the earthquake will rumble on, the message of hope and life through the resurrection of Christ will spread, until the trumpet sounds and Christ returns.  But until then, we heed the angel’s words, “do not be afraid.”  CHRIST IS RISEN! He is risen indeed, halleluia!

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