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The End of Fear (St. Mark 16.1-8)

The Resurrection of Our Lord

“The End of Fear”
Philip G. Meyer, Pastor Emeritus     

St. Mark 16.1-8

09 April 2023

       

SOLI DEO GLORIA!

William Shakespeare employed the word “fear” some 600 times in his plays. I wonder how many times he would have to use it if he were writing plays today. The fears of our age have multiplied faster than the years. With the communication abilities we have today we are made aware instantly of every disaster in every corner of our globe. Add to that the fears that we have living in our own neighborhoods. We experienced attempted break-ins here in this sanctuary. We wonder if we have enough locks on our doors, enough alarm systems, enough security lights, and enough safeguards on our computer systems to keep bad people out.

We can add to this list the fears we have about our health. What will the latest tests reveal? We worry about our jobs as big tech and big business slash thousands of jobs at a stroke. With rising inflation we fear that might not be able to pay our bills. Will we outlive our retirement savings?

We have fears about our children and the world in which we are living. Very troubling things have happened that few anticipated. Schools are not safe places. The flow of dangerous illegal drugs into our nation claim more and more lives. Will our children be OK? And there is the big fear that confronts every one of us eventually—death. There is no getting around that one. It is certain, and it may make us afraid.

Fear is a major element in the resurrection account. From the perspective of the disciples, Friday had ended very badly with Jesus having been crucified. They were now hiding because of fear of the authorities. Would they be arrested and crucified next? It was not an unreasonable fear because the Romans often expanded crucifixion as a tool to terrorize would-be sympathizers as a way of controlling the people under their rule. We can understand the fear of the disciples because they had been with Jesus. They might be next. That’s exactly what the Evangelist John wrote,

On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews . . .

They continued to live in fear even later that day. The last verse of this reading is one of the most puzzling in all of Holy Scripture, and some scholars tell us that this is surely the place where Mark’s Gospel ended. Yet, later manuscripts include verse 9-20. What should the preacher do about this textual problem? Well, we can look to Luther; what did he say about it? Actually, not very much at all! In his House Postils he stops the text at verse 7! In his Church Postils he lists Mark 16.1-8 as the text, which it was historically, but the translators have this footnote: “Although Mark 16.1-8 was printed here in the 1544 Summer Postil and found in the WA 21.213, the sermon actually explains John 20.16-17.[!]” What this means is that Luther punted on the thorny question!

Yet, the matter of fear remains in the account. The women went out to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body with burial spices. The conversation of the women went to a very practical matter: who was going to roll away the stone sealing the tomb? Certainly not these women! But when they arrived at the tomb the stone was already rolled back. “It was very large” the evangelists tell us. As they entered the tomb the angel, in the form of a young man, dressed in white, was sitting on the right side. The women were alarmed, that is, they completely perplexed, completely baffled, at a loss.

The angel spoke to them,

“Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.”

The angel told them not to be distressed over what they saw and heard. It was not troubling news, but great, good news: Jesus has risen; he is not in the tomb. And he invited them to take a closer look. He told them to let their eyes take in the empty tomb. And one more thing the angel told them: they were to tell his disciples and Peter that he would meet them in Galilee, just as he had told them. And then we come to that troubling 8th verse:

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.

I think we can put ourselves into their places. It seems that they were paralyzed with trembling and astonishment. They were shaking and probably unable to speak. At that point they did not yet obey the angel’s words to tell the disciples. Mark simply tells us that that they were dumbstruck. “They said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

Isn’t that how it often is with us? Aren’t we often paralyzed by fear? Scholars have tried to unlock those last two Greek words of the account, four words in English: “For they were afraid.” All speculating aside, and there is plenty of that, I think we know why they were afraid. We are afraid to believe something as wonderful as this news. What if it really were true? What if Jesus really did rise from the dead?

Our hearts, and maybe our minds, are afraid to believe the angel’s words because sin so dominates our thinking and lives. How could it be otherwise? We live in a world steeped in sin, a world in the grip of sin and death. Death is all around us. It claims one and then another. It claims the famous and the infamous. It takes away our loved ones and friends. We are afraid that the next knock on the door may be death summoning us and we may fear it.

Sometimes we might have said about something too good to be true, “Pinch me! Did I just win the lottery? It can’t be!” Dear friends, this is no lottery! This is the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead! The disciples could not fathom how Christ’s death could mean everlasting life for the world, but that is exactly what the death of Christ did. It was the very reason that the Father sent his Son to this earth. And once Christ completed his work of atoning for the world’s sins, death could no longer hold him. So writes the Apostle Paul,

[God] who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, 25 who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. [Rom. 4.24b-25].

Raised for our justification! Our Lord’s resurrection from the dead is the proof that your sins have been atoned by the death of Jesus. Because Jesus lives, the cause of all your fear has been removed. God is not angry with you but is pleased with you because of Jesus. You have been baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That means that as it was with Jesus, so it will be with you. His death is your death and his resurrection is your resurrection. You died with Christ and you have been raised with Christ.

While this has happened already in Holy Baptism, it is not yet complete physically. It will happen in all its fullness with your body on the last day. You live with Christ already now in your spirit. The life which God the Holy Spirit began in you at your Baptism will never end. Your physical life will end. Your body, infected with sin, will die. But that is not the end of it! It will be raised again like Christ’s victorious body.

Because of this, you don’t have to spend the rest of your life in fear. You don’t have to be afraid of bad news because in Christ is the end of all bad news. In him is no death but only life. You have been joined to him in Holy Baptism. You live a life that will never end, and it will be a life according to both body and soul. So we Christians do not weep as though we had no hope when our loved ones who trusted in Jesus die. We have our Lord’s own assurance that they are with him even now, awaiting the resurrection on the last day.

“Go to Galilee” the angel told the women, and finally also the disciples. The angel told the women to tell the apostles. The women become the apostles to the apostles. They are sent to tell them so that they may tell the world. They will see Jesus in Galilee.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you and I could go to Galilee and see Jesus as did the Eleven? My dear friends, you are in Galilee right now! Here in this Divine Service is your Galilee! Here you see Jesus as he appears to you in his true body and blood to forgive your sins, even your sins of paralyzing fear and doubt. Here he gives you the pledges of salvation, the same body crucified and risen again. You know the words of Luther’s Small Catechism. You’ve said them many times.

What is the benefit of this eating and drinking?

These words, “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,” show us that in the Sacrament forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given us through these words. For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.

The empty tomb is “The End of Fear.” That’s great good news for us living in a world that brings only fear to our hearts. You know the words of the hymn by heart:

He lives to silence all my fears;

He lives to wipe away my tears;

He lives to calm my troubled heart;

He lives all blessings to impart. [LSB 461.5]

God the Holy Spirit grant you all joy and peace in Christ’s mighty resurrection from the dead! May he increase true faith in you to know that you, too will be raised to everlasting life!

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit

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