“Do Not Be Afraid”

Matthew 28:1-14

Today’s Scripture is a very familiar story to many of us in this room. Most of us have heard this story many times. In fact, if you were to ask your friends and neighbors what Christianity is all about they would probably come up with the idea that Jesus claimed to have risen from the dead. So we are reading a story today that is a familiar story about Christianity, with an empty tomb and the resurrection of Jesus. Which means we are at risk. In reality, every time we come to a story in the Bible that we think we already know, we are at risk. What it really means is that we have come to a story we have heard before so we think we know it when actually we have but understood a tip of the iceberg. 

However, we are often satisfied with that. 

It is my hope that we continuously seek God’s Word for insight from all that we read, regardless of the amount of times we read it. 

Last week we left Jesus, buried, in a borrowed tomb. The women had gone home to observe the Sabbath. The guards had been ordered to seal the tomb and watch. 

This week, the Sabbath is over and again, the women disciples return to the tomb, fully expecting to find the dead body of Jesus and attend to it with further preparations. They weren’t around when the Roman guard sealed the entrance with their glob of wax.

Along the way they experience another earthquake. By the time the women arrive at the tomb, the stone has been rolled away and they discover an angel sitting on the stone. 

The angel rolled the stone over, not to let the body of Jesus out, as we read in John 20:19 that in His resurrected body, Jesus was able to pass through material barriers. The angel rolled the stone so that others could see in and go in, in order to be persuaded that Jesus Christ had truly risen from the dead. 

The women also encountered the Roman guards who had been ordered to guard the tomb, trembling and faint. It wasn’t even as if the angel had drawn a sword or spoken to the guards yet they were stunned. 

The angel does address the women. He states the first thing any angel says to a human when they encounter them, 

“Do not be afraid.” 

Then he tells them exactly why they have come to this spot, they were looking for the body of Jesus. The angel goes on to say that Jesus was not there, He had risen, just like He had said. 

Like Hello, weren’t you listening? 

He told you this would happen. 

You shouldn’t be that surprised. 

Okay, no place of reference for these ladies to place this information. They had to have been awestruck, even though they hadn’t passed out like the guards. Angels don’t appear on a regular basis and start talking to you. Unless it was Mary the mother of Jesus, however most commentaries have the “other Mary” as Lazarus’ sister. 

Freak out time? 

Well, not really, Mary the sister of Lazarus had already experienced someone she loved being raised from the dead. Lazarus had risen from the dead but he was not resurrected, because he would experience dying again at a later time. Resurrection isn’t just living again, it is living again in a new body, based on our old body but perfectly rearranged to be suited for life in eternity. Jesus was not the first person to be brought back to life, however He was the first person to be resurrected. 

As a fact, there are many graves and tombs today in Israel, both on the Mount of Olives and outside the eastern wall of the temple mount. You can go to see the tomb of Rebecka, the tomb of David and the tomb of his son Absalom. But you won’t find the tomb of Jesus anywhere, because He is not there. Because Jesus is still risen. He ascended into heaven and continues to reign as a resurrected man and fully God. 

The angel gives the women instructions. First he instructs them to come inside the tomb and see where Jesus had lay. The angel was addressing the appropriate people. These ladies had been there when they put the body of Jesus inside. They were eyewitnesses. It wasn’t enough to trust what the angel said, even if it was an angel of God. To see with their own eyes made the resurrection more credible. This gave them more ground to stand on than just stating they had heard it from an angel. 

The angel then instructed them to 

“Go quickly,” and tell His disciples a message, 

“He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see Him.” 

What an honor. Their love for Jesus and their courage to follow Jesus to the grave allowed them to be the first messengers of the good news of Jesus’ resurrection. Lowly women, not the heads of the Church, not the male disciples, but those of lower status learn first that the Lord is risen indeed. 

Not only was Jesus risen from the dead, but He was planning to meet with the women and the other disciples in Galilee. They would see Him again. 

They had been following the Messiah all along and 

He was still going to be a part of their lives. 

The women did exactly as they were told. In fact we read that they “ran” while they were filled with both fear and great joy. No sooner had they started out when they bump into Jesus Himself. Jesus greets them and they drop to His feet and worship Him. An hour ago they thought all was lost and now they were at the feet of Jesus and He was alive, talking to them. Now, they had real evidence. They had touched Jesus and He was alive. 

They had to have been shaking because Jesus also tells them not to be afraid and reminds them of what the angel had told them to do. They were to go tell the disciples, then go to Galilee with them to meet Him.  

In the meantime, a cover-up was brewing. We read that while the women were going to find the disciples, some of the guards were going into the city and rather than going to their commander, they met up with the chief priests and told them everything that had happened.  The chief priests meet with the elders and devise a plan. They tell the guards to claim this lie, 

‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ 

This lie would satisfy the governor should he hear the report and keep the guards out of trouble. 

That and a large sum of money would assure that this lie would circulate until this day. 

What a ridiculous cover up!

The disciples stole Jesus’ body while the guards were asleep? 

In order to believe this statement you would have to believe:

  • ALL the soldiers were asleep – All of them!
  • ALL the soldiers violated the strict law of the Roman military against sleeping on watch, which was punishable to death.
  • Not only that, but ALL the soldiers slept so deeply that not one of them were awakened by the work and exertion and noise necessary to roll away the stone and carry out the body. 
  • If they were ALL asleep, then how did they know it was the disciples who stole the body?

Some people will believe just about anything. 

Matthew completes his gospel with Jesus meeting with His disciples at Galilee, at a mountain which Jesus had instructed them to go. This wasn’t their first encounter with Jesus following His resurrection, but it was a significant one. It was here that Jesus gave them their apostolic commission. Notice the response of the disciples, they worshiped Him but some doubted. Worship was natural, it was an overwhelming miracle. The word “doubted” is a Greek word that means a state of hesitation or uncertainty, not a settled unbelief. These men had to have had conflicting emotions regarding Jesus. Yes, 

He was the Messiah, and yes, they were in awe of what had happened, but they had also deserted Him and would have also had to come to grips with their own disbelief that had caused them to abandon Jesus. The fact that some of the disciples had conflicting thoughts argues against the theory that their seeing Jesus was simply a hallucination born of a desperate desire to see Him. 

It was at this point that Jesus instructed His disciples on what their duty would be after His departure. He begins with establishing His authority and that what He was about to tell them was an authoritative command, not a suggestion. This is the same idea as if an officer reminded a private of their rank before they gave an order. With this authority, Jesus can send whomever He wills to do whatever He decides. 

Do not be afraid – “Go”

Check in time – this command wasn’t just for the first group of disciples following Jesus. This command is for all of us who follow Jesus. As you listen to the descriptions of some of these disciples, consider how well you would fit in. 

  • Peter, rash and headstrong
  • John sometimes wished to call fire from heaven to destroy people
  • Thomas – who must put his finger into the print of the nails, or he will not believe him

Regardless of their faults and idiosyncrasies, with Jesus as the authority, all of these people were good for the task of going, because the power wasn’t in them, the power was in Jesus.  

Jesus tells them to not only “Go” but while out there, “make disciples of all nations.” 

Do not be afraid….

What does it mean to “make disciples?” Jesus was telling them to make a convert or a supporter of a cause. The idea behind the word “disciple” is a learner or a student. Someone who is eager to learn more about Jesus and how to follow Him. The word “make” has the concept of a product of a process, not a spontaneous conversion. 

The making of disciples is the power of spreading Christianity. 

Do not be afraid….

Jesus told them to go to “all the nations.” 

No longer were they to restrict their teaching to the Jewish people. 

From now on there was no place on earth where the gospel of Jesus should not be preached or disciples be made. 

Do not be afraid….

Jesus also called them to baptize their disciples in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Notice Jesus didn’t tell them to “circumcise” those who had become disciples. This suggests a break from traditional Judaism. 

Do not be afraid….

Jesus gave directions on how to do all of this, by “teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.” Disciples are made through teaching, however teaching doesn’t always mean you have to use words. 

A favorite saying that is often attributed to St. Francis of Assisi reads, 

“Preach the gospel at all times and if necessary, use words.” 

The power of the always-present Jesus provides confidence. Jesus claimed He would always be with His people until the job of making disciples is done – until the end of the age. 

And with that in mind….. 

Are you going? 

Are you making disciples?

Are you baptizing those who have chosen to follow Jesus?

If you answered “No,” to any of those questions, my next question is, “Why not?”

Take time this week and ponder this command from Jesus and figure out where you fit into it. 

Next week we will begin reading about the prophet Jonah who had issues when God told Him to “Go” and we all know what happened to him.

Let’s pray.