Fear and Great Joy in The Resurrection

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ – Matthew 28:1-10

The Empty Tomb
In the cool of the early morning, before the sunrise, two women quickly made their way to the graveyard clutching a parcel of spices prepared for the body of their beloved Teacher and friend. Their hearts pounded with fear as they thought of the battle hardened Roman soldiers who stood guard at the tomb, and of the impossible mountain that sealed the entrance to where He lay. All the others were in hiding, fearful of the wrath of the ones who had crucified their Leader, yet these women’s love and desire to serve Him even in His death was greater than their fear for their lives.

As they approached the tomb, the morning still shrouded in darkness, a bolt of lightning cut through the sky and an earthquake trembled the ground beneath them. When all was settled they saw the soldiers, who feared nothing on the battle field, lying on the ground as though dead for fear of the great angel who was now seated on the large stone that blocked their way no more. The heavenly messenger delivered the news of the Resurrection and the women dropped their burial spices, turned, and ran “with fear and great joy.”

    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. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.” So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”

(Matthew 28:1-10 ESV)

The First to See Jesus
These two women were both faithful and very courageous to go to see Jesus’ grave only two days after his crucifixion. John 20:19 says that the other disciples were gathered behind closed and locked doors “for fear of the Jews.” No one really knew what would happen, they only knew that their Teacher was dead. Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” didn’t know what would come of it all any more than the others, and surely they experienced fear also; however, their actions in preparing the burial spices and going to the grave as soon as they were able to show their value for Jesus above their own lives.

Mary Magdalene had been delivered from seven demons when Jesus found her. She owed her life to Him and she knew it. So despite the risk, she went that morning, and as a result was the first one, along with her friend, to hear the glorious news of Jesus’ resurrection AND was the first to see him in person in His resurrected body. What a privilege!

I can’t say for sure that the reason the women were the first to see Jesus was because of their courage, God could’ve had other purposes for revealing it to them first, regardless they set an example for all believers of pursuing Jesus in the midst of their grief and even fear. Is there overwhelming circumstances in your life right now? Then prepare to worship the Savior as these women did when they prepared the burial spices. Although we all face seasons of mourning on different levels, we can worship Jesus through it all because we know that because of the Resurrection there is life beyond this one; life eternal, and that is our great hope.

Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
(Philippians 1:18-21 ESV)

How do Fear and Joy Mix?
When the angel was done speaking to Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, verse 8 says, “they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy.” Their response seems to echo Psalm 2:11,

Serve the LORD with fear,
and rejoice with trembling.
(Psalm 2:11 ESV)

Fear and Joy are two emotions that do not seem to fit together in the natural, but in the presence of the Mighty and Powerful Risen Savior they are the most natural emotions to experience. Fear, because of His Sovereignty over all things including life and death, and Joy, if you take refuge in Him, meaning you realize He is your only hope. The above Psalm continues in verse 12,

Kiss the Son,
lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,
for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him.
(Psalm 2:12 ESV)

This is an extremely unpopular verse. I say that because I’ve never heard anyone talk about it until I stumbled across it myself. It’s easy to find as it’s in Chapter 2 of Psalm, and many people read there, but I’m sure that the reason it’s ignored is because it’s uncomfortable. We do not like to picture Jesus being angry or wrathful, but if you read through Revelation you will discover that it is the “wrath of the Lamb” that will be poured out in the end (Revelation 6:16). Maybe it seems like I’m side tracked here but the fear of the Lord, and particularly of Jesus the Son with our text in Matthew 28, is a predominant feature of this passage. When the two Mary’s depart from the empty tomb they leave with fear and joy, and likewise is their response when they meet Jesus face to face for the first time after His resurrection.

At the Feet of Jesus
If someone you loved had been in a serious accident and you were told they had perished in it, imagine your grief. Now, what if three days later they walked into the room while you were still grieving? You had been misinformed and they actually survived the serious accident…..it would be like getting your loved one back from the dead. Amazing! What joy you would feel. You would likely grab them, hug them and hold onto them for dear life, but certainly you wouldn’t fall to their feet. Yet this is what the women who met Jesus do.

Jesus was a dear friend and teacher to these women before his crucifixion, but he was more than that, He was God in human flesh. While they believed in him before, his appearance to them now in the flesh after witnessing his death and burial, was proof of his deity. So rather than throwing their arms around him and hugging him as a loved one miraculously returned from the dead, they fall at his feet and worship him as God embodied as a man which was a fearful and wonderful thing.

Our culture is way too comfortable with Jesus these days. Not that he doesn’t offer comfort, but the comfort he offers is peace with God even though we are deserving of his wrath. He offers peace when we fear him, and there doesn’t seem to be much fear of God left in the world today. Everybody would like to hug Jesus instead of falling at his feet. We love the idea of “coming boldly into God’s presence” but we mustn’t forget why his presence is available for us to enter, it’s because of Jesus. God is pleased with Jesus, not us. He accepts us because of Jesus’ work on the cross. That should cause us to “serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling.” God’s wrath was upon us and is lifted only because of his Son.

Peace through Fear
As the women worshiped Jesus in fear and joy he tells them not to be afraid. He gives them peace because of their fear.

    Oh, how abundant is your goodness,
which you have stored up for those who fear you
(Psalm 31:19 ESV)

    For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
(Psalm 103:11 ESV)

but the LORD takes pleasure in those who fear him,
in those who hope in his steadfast love.
(Psalm 147:11 ESV)

Because of Jesus there is this beautiful and mysterious mix of fear and joy in our relationship with him. His is God and we are a sinful people, yet he became flesh, was killed at our hands, and resurrected for our sake and now he calls us brothers and sisters.

So be joyful in the Lord and tremble at his saving power, knowing that he’s not a fellow man to be “high fived” but a divine Savior to be worshiped, feared, and adored. To summarize I would say that as you walk through all the stages of life keep close to you the Fear of the Lord and the Joy of the Lord because with these two held close you will walk in both wisdom (Proverbs 1:7 “fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge“) and strength (Nehemiah 8:10 “the joy of the Lord is your strength“).

Preparing the Way,
Danae Martin

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