Monday, April 5, 2010

The King: The Rule of "Fear Not"

Easter Sunrise

Scripture Reading: Matthew 27:57-28:4

What does the Bible teach more than any other thing? What is the most frequently repeated commandment in the Bible?

“Fear not!” “Do not be afraid!”

Easter is the day of, “Fear not!”
In just a few minutes, on that first Easter, the women who went to look at the place where Jesus was buried got two “fear nots”: one from the angel, the other one from Jesus himself. “Don’t be afraid.”

That first day of the week, so long ago in Jerusalem, should have been a day of fear. All the followers of Jesus were afraid. It would have been foolish for them not to be. They belonged to a failed and suppressed religious movement that was also accused of being a dangerous political movement. They were accomplices in capital crimes against the state and against the established religion: treason and blasphemy.

Their leader, Jesus, had been executed on the cross, and they had watched as his dead body had been taken down from the cross and buried in one of the tombs that were carved in a nearby hillside. They had watched as the huge millstone door was rolled down into its groove to cover the entrance.

They went home that Friday evening to think about the brutal deaths they had seen, the hopes that had been dashed, the friend they had lost, the danger they were in. It was still sinking in, and that merciful, mindless fogginess of shock was giving way to the full sense of reality. But the reality was only more horror, grief, and fear.

The men (Peter, James, John, and all the rest) didn’t dare leave the house where they were staying for fear of their own arrest and execution. The women who went to see the tomb had only a little less reason to fear, because they were only women and, therefore (in that time and place), less important. But, partly as a precaution, and partly because they could not sleep, they had gotten up before dawn and passed through the stone streets of the city in shadow, and they exited the city gate at the earliest possible time to pass the guards without arousing suspicion.

Out from the northwest corner of the city, into the open air, the barren knoll of Golgotha rose close to the gate, the uprights of the crosses still stood above them against the pale sky as they passed. Just beyond, as the road curved around the knoll, there was a stone embankment, fronted by a stone fence. A cemetery garden, inside the fence, shaded the row of stone doors.

One section of the garden and its particular door was guarded by Roman soldiers. The women would have a gauntlet of armed and armored men to pass before they reached their goal: the tomb of Jesus.

The women may have met this squad of men before. They may have been the same squad that supervised the execution of Jesus, and gambled for his clothing.

If they weren’t the same men, the resemblance was close enough. The association was just as alarming and frightening. The women only wished that Peter and the others had been able and willing to come with them.

What they discovered that morning, at the tomb in the garden, still left them with a choice of whether or not to be afraid. The world they lived in would not seem any different. It would look just the same as it had looked before dawn. But it would be a completely different world, if they could accept it.

What they would find at the tomb of Jesus was a new world where God clearly said, “Fear not!” They lived in a world where the angels said, “Fear not!” They lived in a world where death had been defeated. They lived in a world where evil, and sin, and suffering, and death no longer had the last word. They could find that fear, itself, was no longer alive, unless you were the one who called it to life.
They lived in a world where their dead friend and teacher had become their Savior and Lord. Jesus had turned death back on its heels.

Sin had brought death into the world. Together, they had written a history of tragedy and sadness in a world that had been created for joy and love.

Jesus met all the sin and death of this world on the cross. He had held them close, and they had thrown him down. But now Jesus had thrown them down and held them to the mat.

Now Jesus had risen from death and he was the master. He was, and is, the conqueror of sin and death. Sin and death had brought fear into the world. Jesus has created a new world where the message is “fear not.”

The world we live in gives us a message of fear in many guises. Watch out! Be careful! Be smart! Play along! Don’t rock the boat!

There are real dangers and risks in our world. There are reasons to listen to all warnings about danger, but not when those warnings go against goodness, and truth, and justice, and mercy, and faithfulness, and love. Then is the time to listen to Jesus, and to the new world of the Kingdom of God, where the word is, “Fear not!”
It is like living in a country where there are rattlesnakes. In my years in Washtucna I have only found one rattlesnake in my yard, and I killed that one with a hoe.

When I was growing up, my family lived, for several years, on the edge of my home town. We had several acres with an old orchard, and a barn and some sheds, and a pasture, and the back of the property ended at a place called the Live Oak Slough.
The slough was a low place that had once been a seasonal waterway. It was dry in the summer and sometimes had water in it in the winter, and there were willow thickets and other things, including snakes. I liked walking out there. It was peaceful and relaxing.

One summer evening, when I was about 15 and my youngest sister, Nanci, was about 7 we went for a walk out there and, as we were coming back, I was slightly ahead and I saw a rattlesnake spread out in our path, about three feet away. I got a quick case of goose bumps, and jumped to the side. I said, “Look out, Nanci!” And I pointed at the snake, and Nanci jumped right over it.

I yelled at her for doing that. I think I was right to yell.

The good thing about it all was that really neither she nor I were all that afraid. We went out there any number of times after that.

Natural fear is an instinct that is designed to help us protect ourselves and respond in the direction of life, and safety, and security. But a prolonged fear, a chronic fear, a clinical fear (if such a thing exists) is poison.

There is a fear that is deadly because it is the opposite of life. There is a fear that separates us and isolates us from others. There is a fear that keeps us from commitment and love. There is a fear that makes us betray justice, and mercy, and faithfulness, and hope. There is a fear that is deadly to goodness and the good life as God designed it to be lived.

We can live with Jesus and grow strong in lives that point the way to real goodness, and truth, and justice, and mercy, and faithfulness, and love. We can stand for what is right, and live with joy and courage. We can serve the King and the Kingdom of God.

But you can only hear the real “fear not” when you have met Jesus. The words must come from him.

The women went to look for Jesus. They looked for him in a tomb, and they didn’t find what they were looking for. They found something better.

For some people Jesus is buried in the tomb of the history of long ago, or in the tomb of an old book that even Christians do not often read. For some people Jesus is buried in old customs, and in strange old songs, or in the parrot-like words of those who are only living with Jesus at arm’s length.

For these people, seeking Jesus is like seeking what the women sought at the tomb. They have no reason to “fear not” unless they go seeking for one thing until they find the other thing, and find something beyond their imagination.

You can seek a dead Jesus and still find the living Jesus, just like the disciples did at the tomb in Jerusalem. Jesus will find you on the way, and say, “Fear not!”

You will find someone who is stronger than the powers of this world, stronger than all the sad and brutal stories this world can write. You will find Jesus who met the world’s evils and has conquered them and opened a new world to those who follow him.

You can live with him in the kingdom of God which is the real world today (the world that is coming to be, in a world that is passing away). In this world of faith, where Jesus is alive, we can fear not, and live and act by faith.

No comments:

Post a Comment