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"Fear...Like Onions, You Know?"

Presented on The Lutheran Hour on April 4, 2021
By Rev. Dr. Michael Zeigler, Lutheran Hour Speaker
Copyright 2021 Lutheran Hour Ministries

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Text: Mark 16

Fear is like what happens when you cut into a raw onion. If you were to go back in time to when I was a kid, and you asked me if there were any foods that I didn't like, at the top of the list would always be onions.

Onions stink and they make you cry. However, as an adult, I can see that there are more to onions than that. I can appreciate how a chopped onion brings a layer of flavor to the table. I can appreciate that. And this is helping me understand fear.

Sometimes fear is like what happens when you cut into a raw onion. It's an unpleasant sensation that comes when something good is on the way. It's a temporary unpleasant sensation that arises when something truly good is coming, but not always. Sometimes fear is that unsettling feeling that arises when something bad is coming. Fear is that burning that builds down in your gut when you think you've lost something or someone you love.

Fear can send you spinning out of control, or fear is like that gag in your mouth when you know you should speak up, but you don't speak up because you don't want to get that look. You don't want to get the cold shoulder. You don't want to be isolated and left alone. Fear inhibits you. Fear is like trying to drive with your emergency brake engaged. It holds you back because it's telling you that if you keep going, you're going to crash and burn and fail and feel worthless. Fear is paralysis. It's like a deer frozen in the headlights, struck by the terror of impending disaster, pain, and death. Sometimes when you're afraid, it's because something bad is on the way. And you know it, but there are exceptions. Fear can also be a temporary unsettling sensation that comes when something truly good is on the way. It's like the stench and sting of chopped onions that soon give way to the layers of a richly flavored Easter dinner.

Sometimes fear is just what comes out first. It spills over on the cutting edge of something new, something truly good. For example, when a person finds out that they're going to be a mother or a father for the first time, it's natural, it's normal to be afraid. A new mother or a new father might fear the loss of their old life. They might fear the possibility of being isolated from their friends. They might be afraid of failure, that they're not cut out for such a high calling. And then there's always the fear of pain, of childbirth, and even in some cases, the possibility of death. It's all real, it's all there, but this fear, it's just on the leading edge of something truly good: new life for the world.

And this is how fear is portrayed in the ancient biography of Jesus of Nazareth known as the Gospel according to Mark. And it's possible that Mark deliberately ended his book with this somewhat counter-intuitive understanding of fear.

If you open up a Bible and turn to the Gospel according to Mark at the end, chapter 16, you'll probably see a note there after verse 8. The note will say something like, "Some of the earliest manuscripts of Mark's book do not include chapter 16, verses 9-20."

Now, there's disagreement about this. Some people think that these last 12 verses of the book are genuine, that Mark actually wrote them because they do appear in other ancient manuscripts and they do fit with the details we get in other accounts of Jesus in the Gospels of Matthew, Luke, John, and the book of Acts. On the other hand, since some of the oldest manuscripts end the book at chapter 16, verse 8, and since the style of writing and the longer ending doesn't fit with Mark's style in the rest of the book, some people have concluded that Mark did not write these last 12 verses, but rather, some well-meaning Christian added this ending years later.

Now, if you're a follower of Jesus and you trust reliability and authority of the Bible, this doesn't need to be a problem for you. The events and teachings recorded in this longer ending are also recorded in other books of the New Testament, all of which are based on solid manuscript evidence, more solid than any other set of ancient documents in the world. So just take a deep breath. And after you do that, consider how this still raises an interesting question. If Mark did end his book at chapter 16, verse 8, what would motivate someone to come and add a longer ending later? What's wrong with ending at verse 8?

Well, verse 8 ends with fear, and fear is a bad thing, right? You wouldn't want to end a good news story with fear, would you? Ah, but Mark, the inspired writer, wants us to see that fear isn't just a distressing emotion. Mark wants us to see that human fear is evidence that God is at work.

For example, when Jesus told the storm to stop and the storm obeyed, Mark tells us that His disciples were afraid at what Jesus did. And when that village chained up that poor man who was possessed by thousands of demons and left him in a graveyard, and Jesus came and drove out the demons and restored him to his right mind, Mark tells us that that whole village was afraid at what Jesus did. And when that woman came up behind Jesus and secretly touched Him in the crowd, and power went out from Him, and she felt in her body that she'd been healed from her disease, and Jesus turned and called the woman out of the crowd to talk with her, Mark tells us that she was afraid at what Jesus did. Mark shows us again and again how human fear is the normal reaction to what Jesus is doing.

The disciples are afraid when they see Jesus walking on the water, and they're afraid as they're walking up to Jerusalem. And when Jesus tells them that He's going to be crucified, dead, and buried, and after three days rise again, they don't understand what He means and they're too afraid to ask Him. Mark tells us all about this fear, and he shows us how the stench and sting of it is giving way to faith. And so in chapter 16, verse 8, when he tells us that the women at the tomb are afraid, you know that it's just another sign that God is working. Listen to it, picking up the account just before Jesus dies.

And Jesus, upon sending out a great shout, expired. He breathed out the spirit, and the curtain of the temple sanctuary split in two from top to bottom. And the centurion, who was standing there facing Him, when he saw that in this way He breathed out the spirit, said, "Truly this Man was the Son of God." And some women were there observing from a distance. Among them were both Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger, the mother of Joses and Salome. When Jesus was in Galilee, they would follow Him and serve Him along with many other women, those who had come up to Jerusalem with Him.

Now, it was the day of preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath. And since evening was approaching, Joseph of Arimathea, an honorable member of the Jewish ruling council, who was also awaiting the rule and reign of God, he took courage and went into Pilate, the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate, and he requested the body of Jesus. Pilate was amazed to hear that He was already dead. And when he learned from the centurion that it was so, he granted the corpse to Joseph. And since Joseph had bought a linen cloth, he took down the body and wrapped it in the linen and placed it in a tomb which had been cut from the rock formation, and he rolled a stone over the entrance. And Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of Joses, observed where He was placed and was now there.

After the Sabbath had passed, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome, bought spices so that they might come to the tomb and anoint Him. And on the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they come to the tomb after the sun had risen. And they were saying to one another, "Who's going to roll the stone away from the tomb for us?" And when they looked up, they see that the stone was already rolled away. It was very large, you know. And after they had entered into the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right-hand side, dressed in a white robe. And they were alarmed.

And he says to them, "Don't be alarmed. You seek Jesus from Nazareth, the One who was crucified. He is arisen. He is not here. See the place where they laid Him, but go, tell His disciples and Peter that He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There, you will see Him, just as He told you." And upon going out, they fled from the tomb, for trembling astonishment had them in its grip. And they said nothing to anyone. They were afraid, you know.

I was talking to a friend recently who describes himself as somewhat of a "closet Christian," mostly because of fear. He says he leans toward confessing Jesus to be the crucified and risen Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God. But at the same time, he's afraid that if he's open about this with his friends, they'll think that he's ignorant, or unscientific, or maybe even dangerous. If he confesses Jesus publicly, he's afraid of what might happen.

And I can relate to that; I'm guessing you can, too. Because it's real fear. Because speaking and believing and acting on the resurrection of the crucified Jesus changes everything we thought we knew about the world. Think about it, this ancient Jewish Rabbi who was crucified is the Son of God because He is risen from the dead. And He is ruling and reigning over all things, and is one day returning to be the King and the Judge of everyone. And it doesn't matter how long it takes for that day to come, because even if we're all dead by then, He will undo death because that is what He does.

And this changes everything. It turns the world upside down and inside out. And when the truth of this was cutting into the raw hearts of those women at the tomb, it's no surprise that fear is what came out first. But very soon, the stench and sting of that fear gave way to the rich flavor of new life. Fear gave way to faith. And you know it did, because if it hadn't, the Name "Jesus of Nazareth" would be meaningless to you and to me now two-thousand years later. His Name would have been forgotten just like the thousands of other Jews and outlaws and slaves that the Romans nailed on crosses during this time period.

But the fact is you and I are talking and thinking about Jesus of Nazareth, right now. The fact is that Jesus is the most talked-about Person in human history. The fact is that more than a billion people around the world worship Him as Lord, and many more have given up their lives to carry His message around the world. Why? Because Jesus undid death that day, and they couldn't keep quiet about it. Fear in that case was just the initial unpleasant sensation that came with something good. It's like cutting into a raw onion.

And if you traveled back in time to when I was a kid, and you told me that one day I would believe—I would believe that something good could come from the stench and sting of chopped onions—at that point in time, I would have thought you were ignorant, unscientific, and dangerous. And I probably would have been a little afraid too, afraid of losing my childhood to a strange world in which I was not only an adult, but an adult that eats onions.

See, in some ways, all fear is fear of loss, and it's normal for the resurrection of Jesus to cause this kind of fear in us. Because the resurrection of Jesus is not just another religious idea that you add into your world. Because the resurrection of Jesus doesn't fit into the world as we know it. And believing it means losing whatever world you thought you lived in and finding yourself in a new one.

So it's completely normal to feel afraid. Almost everyone who encounters Jesus, when they realize who He is and what He's up to, they're afraid. But there's another layer to this because Jesus isn't some hypothetical, time-traveling, childhood-stealing onion lover. He loves you. He loved you enough to take the stench of sin and the sting of death into Himself and undo them so that you could have new life, rich-flavored, multi-layered, whole body life in Him, you know.

Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Hallelujah!

No Reflections for April 4, 2021

Music Selections for this program:

"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.

"Awake, My Heart, with Gladness" arr. Robert Buckley Farlee. From Hymns for All Saints: Lent, Easter, Pentecost (© 2006 Concordia Publishing House)

"Christ Is Arisen" arr. Henry Gerike. From Hope by the Concordia Seminary Chorus (© 2003 Concordia Seminary Chorus)

"With High Delight" arr. Henry Gerike. Used by permission.

Change Their World. Change Yours. This changes everything.

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