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"They Were Afraid, You Know?"

Presented on The Lutheran Hour on April 1, 2018
By Rev. Dr. Dale A. Meyer, Guest Speaker
(Q&A Topic:They Were Afraid, You Know?)
Copyright 2020 Lutheran Hour Ministries

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Text: Mark 16:1-8

Christ is risen! I wish you and yours a blessed celebration of Easter. Jesus Christ rose from the dead, and when you believe in Him you have the promise of resurrection and a blessed life in heaven that will never end. That is amazing, but I also find that to be a personal challenge, and the challenge of Easter is what I want to share with you. When I go to a funeral and hear Jesus' words, "Because I live, you also will live," I believe that promise of eternal life. That's what we expect to hear at the funeral of a believing Christian. And when I think about my own mortality, I do believe that Jesus has forgiven my sins and promises life everlasting. Honestly, what else do I have as the end of my life approaches? But here's the challenge of Easter that I often mull over and want to explore today with you. What difference does Easter make as I go about the normal routines of daily life? What difference does Easter make when my boss does something block-headed? What difference does Easter make when there's a family spat? When I'm struggling with an addiction, when I'm a single parent, when I'm deep in debt, when I'm depressed-how can Easter make a difference in my day-to-day living? Heaven is a wonderful promise when that time comes. How can Easter change your every day?

This is practical. Let's get into it by asking God's help. Heavenly Father, help us! When the lilies have faded, and the Easter greetings are gone, may Your Spirit and Word keep Easter alive and vibrant in our hearts for day-to-day living. After Your Son paid the price for our sins, You raised Him from the dead so that all who believe in Jesus live in the promise of eternal life in heaven. May that eternal promise ripple with joy and hope into our daily lives. Since we have been buried with Christ by baptism into death, help us live every day in newness of life until we join Jesus soul and body in heaven. Give us joy and confidence as we trust Jesus, the resurrection and the life. Amen.

This wonderful Easter day challenges our attitude and conduct as we go about daily life. The heart of the challenge is this. It's natural to think death is the end, and we're going to hear today about some people who assumed the finality of death, but to believe in the resurrection of a corpse? That goes against almost everything in our experience. Jesus liked a passage from the prophet Isaiah, "They may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand." Are we seeing and hearing the Easter story today but not perceiving, not understanding, not really getting it? Have you and I heard this story, Christ is risen from the dead so often that it loses its stunning quality, that this day ends up being more ritual than reality? If you assume the dominance and finality of death, it will show in how you live and act, a ripple effect. On the other hand, think about what might ripple into your daily life when you believe that corpse really did come back to life and will never die again.

That's the overview; now let's get into the specifics of the story. Let's try and put ourselves into the story. "When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint Him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. And they were saying to one another, 'Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?'" (Mark 16:1-3).

What they did was natural, predictable. They went to the tomb, much as you go to the funeral home to make arrangements when someone close to you has died. They were grief stricken, a feeling you also know. It might be when you lose someone dear to you. Grief also comes when something precious is taken away from us: a relationship gone sour, turmoil at work, the kids leaving home. Daily things also bring grief. As if grief over death wasn't enough that first Easter, we also know from the other Gospel accounts that Jesus' followers were scared. Jesus had clashed with the authorities and came out the apparent loser. They executed Him. What are the authorities going to do to us who associated with Jesus? It's like you go to make funeral arrangements for a criminal and you know the police or FBI are watching you. It's all so natural, so predictable. This is the way life is lived, isn't it? The challenge question is-is this the only way to live?

When the women get to the tomb, their natural expectations begin to be upended by something supernatural. St. Mark's account continues, "And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back-it was very large" (Mark 16:4). That's strange, the stone is rolled away. In our day it would be like going to the cemetery and seeing the grave of your loved one dug up. Now their grief is joined by curiosity, what's going on here, and by fear. We've got a bad feeling about this. Continuing from St. Mark, "And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. And he said 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. 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" (Mark 16:5-8).

Now we're beyond a grave robbery. The closed tomb was natural and predictable, but now we find ourselves challenged by a whole new way of living. Something is going on beyond natural understanding, something unpredictable to our normal way of thinking, something we cannot control. No wonder the women are astonished, tremble, and run away in fear. Biblical scholar Otto Balz explains, "What the women are afraid of in Mark 16:8 is the empty tomb and the incomprehensible message of the angel. Their fear is in the context of the passion and death of Jesus, which brings only perplexity and horror. The promise of the resurrection has not yet been experienced as the presence of the Risen Lord dispensing salvation."

Now I beg for your attention. What you just heard- "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" - is the way the Gospel of Mark ends. The Gospel of Mark ends with a note of fear: "for they were afraid." Now that's not the way the story of Easter ends, but it seems to be the way Mark ends. Important ancient manuscripts of the Gospel of Mark end right there at verse 8: "For they were afraid." Other old manuscripts add the rest of the Easter story. You can learn more about the ending of Mark by reading the footnotes in your English Bible or commentaries. It's important to know that this does not affect the Easter story or our faith, but it does make us wonder. Why might Mark have ended on such a down note: "For they were afraid"? The answer is dramatic, and it's the heart of the Easter challenge. Our penchant is for the predictable, doing what comes naturally. Easter brings us face to face with the supernatural. God raised Jesus from the dead. "Death is swallowed up in victory" (1 Corinthians 15:54). "I shall not die, but I shall live and recount the deeds of the Lord" (Psalm 118:17). It's one thing to be filled with Easter thoughts and feelings today or when you go to a funeral, but the real challenge of Easter is how we face life on our routine days. Is your daily attitude and conduct bound to the natural and predictable like the women who were shocked and afraid because of what happened, or does the awe-filled resurrection of Jesus put supernatural hope in your heart for every situation you face?

Mark's Gospel may end at verse 8, but the Easter story doesn't end with fear. The story goes on to joy and hope at the awesome thing God does in restoring His Son to life. Beginning with Easter Sunday, Jesus repeatedly appeared to the disciples. Otto Balz, the scholar I quoted earlier, wrote, "The promise of the resurrection has not yet been experienced as the presence of the risen Lord dispensing salvation." The appearances of the risen Lord in the 40 days of Easter showed that death is not finally dominant, that what we regard as inevitable, natural and predictable is not, not when you follow Jesus. Jesus' appearances proved that He was alive. St. Paul summarizes the appearances of the risen Jesus. "I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas (Peter), then to the twelve. Then He appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared also to me" (1 Corinthians 15:3-8).

It wasn't just seeing the corpse come alive that turned their fear into awe-filled hope and confidence for the future. There is something more, and this something more about Jesus' appearances is key if you are going to have an attitude filled with hope as you go about your daily routines. By His resurrection and bodily appearances, Jesus proved that the word and promises of God are true. Listen to what the Bible says. In Mark 14:28 Jesus promised, "After I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee." Now, two chapters later, in Mark 16:7, after He has died and the stunning discovery at the tomb, the angel says to the women, "Go, tell His disciples and Peter that He is going before you to Galilee, just as He told you." The biblical text tells us that Jesus kept His Word. God won't renege on the promises He makes to you in His Word about Jesus. The predictions of resurrection and their fulfillment Easter Day are proof.

Here's another example: the heart-touching story of the Emmaus disciples in Luke 24. Easter evening Jesus supernaturally joined the two disciples walking to Emmaus, but Jesus didn't let them recognize Him, at first. They were down in the mouth about what had happened. "We had hoped that He (Jesus) was the one to redeem Israel. ... Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find His body, they came back saying that they had seen a vision of angels, who said He was alive" (Luke 24:21-23).

And then Jesus gently chides them, "O foolish ones and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into His glory?" And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself" (Luke 24:25-27).

Why do we believe the Bible is the true Word of God? Because it testifies to Jesus Christ, whose resurrection shows that God in His time and way keeps His promises.

Let's round out today's message by answering the Easter challenge question: How can Easter change your every day? How can awe at the empty tomb ripple through your life with hope and joy? The answer is to immerse yourself in the Word of God and the promises of Jesus. Lay your sins on the crucified One. Have a clear conscience because your sins died with Jesus, and know that He lives to give you hope and joy every day as a forgiven sinner on the heavenward way. There's no better witness to hope and joy from the resurrection than St. Peter. The angel singled Peter out for the Easter message, "tell the disciples and Peter." Easter changed Peter, as it should change us all. Peter wrote, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to His great mercy, He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time."

The Easter story went on for the first disciples. Will it go on for you? Day by day this is a struggle: the tussle we feel between the natural and predictable things we see and experience and the supernatural gift of following our risen Lord in faith. At every challenge you may face in the days ahead, the block-headed boss, the family disagreement, addiction, lonely struggles of parenting, aging and frailty-in short, all the consequences of sin that tempt us to trust only what we see and understand, we can react like the women. They were afraid, you know? Sure, you know. So do I. But the word of the risen Lord made all the difference for the first disciples, and it can ripple into our daily lives with hope and joy. "We walk by faith, and not by sight" (2 Corinthians 5:7). The great devotional writer Oswald Chambers said, "Anything that savors of dejection spiritually is always wrong." A blessed Easter to you, today, tomorrow, and forever! Amen.

Reflections for APRIL 1ST, 2018

Mark Eischer: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour, and that was Dr. Dale Meyer. Joining us now from his home in Texas, with some reflections on what we've just heard, here's our Speaker Emeritus, Pastor Ken Klaus.

Ken Klaus: Mark, I hope you will grant me the privilege of addressing you with the ancient greeting of the church for this day, by saying, "Christ is risen."

Mark Eischer: He is risen, indeed. That is also how you begin every one of your Lutheran Hour messages.

Ken Klaus: With one or two exceptions, that is true.

Mark Eischer: Why do you do that?

Ken Klaus: Mark, when I was in the parish, I could see when folks were getting bored and had stopped listening or had fallen asleep. That's an advantage which is totally lost in radio.

Mark Eischer: You have no way of knowing when people have turned out or have "left the room" as it were.

Ken Klaus: Which means, if I'm going to share something important, I had better do it right away. Which is why I say "Christ is risen" at the beginning of each sermon. I want people to receive that all-important message, if nothing else.

Mark Eischer: You said this message is "all important." But aren't there many important messages in Scripture?

Ken Klaus: It is as you say. But every other truth of Scripture becomes empty and meaningless if the resurrection of the Savior is not reality. In short, everything in our faith rises and falls on what the Bible says happened on Resurrection Sunday.

Mark Eischer: That's exactly what St. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15. We read, "If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.

Ken Klaus: If Jesus has not conquered death, then every sermon ever preached is shot full of holes. If Jesus has not conquered death, then those believers who have died are gone forever. If Jesus has not defeated death, our sins remain unforgiven, and we are to be most pitied. Without the third-day resurrection of the Christ, everything we have ever said about Jesus crumbles into dust.

Mark Eischer: Why is it especially important to share that truth with those listening right now?

Ken Klaus: Numbers and odds; numbers and odds, Mark. What I mean by numbers and odds is this: the odds dictate that when you have an audience the size of ours, for somebody, maybe a lot of somebodies, this will be the last time they will ever hear a message about Jesus and how the risen Redeemer has saved them from their sins.

Mark Eischer: For some, this will be the first time they've ever hear of the Savior.

Ken Klaus: And without the resurrection of Jesus, that salvation story loses its power. So, you see, both the living and those who are dying need to know Christ is risen, which explains why, when the unbelieving world attacks Christianity, they do so at this particular point. Do you recall what the Jewish leaders did after Jesus had been buried?

Mark Eischer: They went to Pilate and they said they remembered how Jesus, they called Him the "imposter," how He had said while He was still alive that He would rise after three days, so they wanted to make sure that tomb was made secure until the third day so that the disciples couldn't go and steal the body and then come out and tell people, "Oh yeah, He's risen from the dead," and they said this "last fraud will be worse than the first."

Ken Klaus: Well, that day they made the tomb as secure as they could, and it still didn't help. Those leaders, like much of the unbelieving world, understood that if Jesus has risen, then everything He said about Himself, our forgiveness, our salvation-as well as our home in heaven-is factual and can be trusted

Mark Eischer: But if Jesus has not risen, then nothing else the Christian community says should be believed either. St. Paul wrote, "For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God."

Ken Klaus: And that was the truth Dr. Meyer was talking about today. Yes, an empty tomb is dangerous, depressing, discouraging. But an empty tomb with a living, eating, drinking, breathing, touchable Savior standing before it, sends a completely different message.

Mark Eischer: And it's a message that not only has significance for the day we die, it's also important for every day we live.

Ken Klaus:Exactly. The logic is this: suppose, just for the sake of argument, Jesus never rose from the dead. Suppose you could travel to Jerusalem and stand before the grave which still held His body. What would that mean?

Mark Eischer: It would be like visiting the grave of every other religious leader.

Ken Klaus: Beyond that, if Jesus is still dead, can we call upon Him in the day of trouble and expect Him to deliver us?

Mark Eischer: No. A dead Jesus doesn't hear or answer prayers.

Ken Klaus: Would Jesus be the Way, the Truth, and the Life?

Mark Eischer: No, nor would He be the Savior and the promised Messiah.

Ken Klaus: So, without a Savior, without a Lord to thank for forgiveness and salvation, we are still in our sins. We are lost and doomed. In such a circumstance, what would stop a person from doing whatever he wanted?

Mark Eischer: I think they'd be free to do anything and everything.

Ken Klaus: Yeah, humanity would, in many ways, be like they were before the flood where, in Genesis 6:5, it says, "The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thought of his heart was only evil continually."

Mark Eischer: But the truth is, as St. Paul has said, "In fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep."

Ken Klaus: And the apostle concludes in 1 Corinthians 15: "When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: 'Death is swallowed up in victory.' O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the Law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."

Mark Eischer: Thank you, Pastor Klaus. And looking ahead to next week's program, what will your message be about?

Ken Klaus: Continuing with this theme, my message is titled, "It's Really Real." It's about how we can know this resurrection talk is more than just talk and wishful thinking.

Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.

"Awake, My Heart, with Gladness" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House

Change Their World. Change Yours. This changes everything.

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