Resurrection Words for the Fearful
If you have ever gone to a funeral, you know what you will find there.
There will be tears and long faces, flowers and cards. And the body of a loved one, now lifeless and cold. It is not a setting where you expect a big surprise or a shocking turn of events.
So think about how the women felt on Easter Sunday. They are introduced at the beginning of Mark 16—Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome—making an early-morning trip to the tomb of Jesus. After a funeral in first century Israel, this is typically what happened: friends and relatives of the deceased would make regular visits to the grave. Cherishing a faint hope of revival, perhaps, or simply to carry out their grieving.
The women have something else in mind, too; they are going to anoint the body of the Lord. In the rush of events last Friday, with the Sabbath fast-approaching, his burial had not been properly completed. So it was time to finish it. It was a sad task, smothering a body with spices and perfumes. This was done to show affection and reverence, but also to mask the unpleasant odours of decay. These women have no expectation of the coming shock. They are expecting Jesus’ body to rot, not to rise!
But coming to the tomb, they see that it is not only open, it’s occupied! Inside is a young man clothed in white. The women’s surprise is being compounded with every passing second for at once they know this to be an angel.
And surprise gives way to fear, as it always does when people stand in the presence of one of God’s messengers. Look throughout the Bible at so many appearances of angels to the men and women of old, and the reaction is almost invariably the same: terror! To see a glorious angel, sent as a servant of the Most High God, somehow makes a person realize his weakness and smallness.
It is not an unhealthy reaction. We are forced to think about something we would rather not consider: just how sinful we are, how unclean, that God’s majesty is not to be trifled with and that He can overwhelm us in an instant.
In this lifetime we may not ever be faced with a shining angel like these women were, but our attitude should be the same: “Who are we sinners, before the LORD? He’s the Creator, and we’re but small and weak mortals! Am I to be destroyed by his holiness?”
In short: How can we ever be near this God?
But every fear of weak sinners gets answered with the gospel of Easter Sunday. For the angel says to the women, “Do not be alarmed” (v. 6). Such a simple command, yet it resounds in every age. Why be alarmed in the presence of the LORD? Why be anxious? For this God is with us and for us!
“And now I will tell you how it is possible to be without fear, how it is possible to begin to live in joy,” says the angel: “You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here” (v. 6). This is the reason why all fear ought to be banished. This is the reason for the believer’s comfort and hope: Christ is risen!
Let us take apart the angel’s message to see how startling it is. The first phrase can be taken as a question: “You are seeking Jesus of Nazareth?” In other words, the angel implies, that is a useless labour, a pointless project. You shouldn’t even be here, if you remember how often Jesus said He would rise up on the third day. They’ve got it wrong, but the Lord is so patient with his people.
Notice also how the angel refers to Christ: Jesus of Nazareth. Why would he say that? It is a subtle reminder of how lowly this King once was. After all, He came from an insignificant town of Galilee. One of his own disciples had once asked the question, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46). Similar mockery and doubt had hounded Christ for his whole ministry.
What is more, the angel says, He “was crucified” (v. 6). The women know this, of course, for they were there on Good Friday and saw the nails and the terrible cross. But notice how “crucified” is what Christ is, still now, after his resurrection from the dead. This was more than an ugly means of execution—this event would define him!
Even thirty years later, Paul writes to the Corinthians, “We preach Christ crucified” (1 Cor 1:23). And in heaven, the Lamb of God still bears the marks of being slain (Rev 5:6). Forever remembered as “crucified”—and why? Because crucifixion means the price is paid. It means that He carried the curse of God against sin, and He was hung on a tree because even God didn’t want him.
But now that’s all over. For the crucified Jesus is risen. The one rejected and despised by men is now the champion of their salvation. The one condemned by God has been raised by God, because his work was well done. He did what no one could ever do: He went to hell and back. He conquered the grave and took the sting out of sin’s curse.
“He is risen.” What a startling revelation—and what good news! It means we now have a way to be right with God. Like the angel said, there’s no more reason for alarm, there’s no longer a cause for fear.
That is precious to know, because we’re still given to all manner of anxieties. Like most things, we can hide our fear pretty well. But you’re fearful of other people, what they’ll say about you, what they’ll do, if they’ll approve. You’re scared of failing or being rejected. Perhaps you dread getting sick, or being lonely, or suffering pain.
Or in days of crisis, you’re anxious about all kinds of unknowns: anxious about tomorrow, and next month, next year. We might even live in the fear of death, dreading when our time on earth is done. Because what happens then?
Or perhaps we fear because we know ourselves to be sinners in the presence of the holy God. Maybe a person thinks about God’s wrath, and how unworthy they are, and how their sins are so terrible.
But whatever your fear, hold onto the Easter Sunday gospel: “Do not be alarmed.” And here’s why:
“Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified, is risen.”
He went through hell for you. He was hung on the accursed tree in your place. And then He defeated Satan’s power by rising up so that the devil can never claim you.
This gospel gives a sure confidence to our fear-filled lives. When we live by faith in Christ, we can live the best kind of life: in the presence of God, now and always. Through the risen Jesus, our inheritance is steadfast and secure. Through the risen Christ, we have God’s promise that He will be our God forever!
That’s a revelation to remember.