Part 2 of 3
The Bridge Over Troubled Waters
I have been so blessed by the example of Joanne and Chris (names have been changed). They have walked a real Pilgrimage of Provocation with great grace and peace. Let me tell you a bit about some troubled waters they recently walked through.
One day Chris was enroute from one of his church plants when a motorcycle came out of nowhere. Though I am not positive how the accident happened, I do know that Chris, in preparing to make a turn, was hit by the motorcycle and both of the passengers on the bike went flying. In the ensuing chaos, Christ helped the men get to the hospital and see that they were decently cared for, then went on his way thinking that was it.
But it was not the end of the matter. In Thailand, and other Asian countries, the person who is white is usually considered to be at fault so a police investigation ruled Chris as the person responsible for the accident. Not only that, but the two men in the hospital demanded hundreds of thousands of Baht from Chris to pay for their bodily and vehicular damages. To add insult to injury, Chris knew that the driver was driving drunk and that neither passenger was wearing a helmet. So Chris had to come up with an impossible amount of money for an accident that was clearly not his fault and pay for the hospital bills of men who were both inebriated and irresponsible.
These circumstances would have been enough except that the middle son, John, became very ill at the same time. He was hospitalized for some respiratory issues and in the hospital, was given medicine that almost killed him. Joanne is a nurse and was able to keep the dosages from being played out to their prescribed end, which saved John, but there were a number of nights in the hospital with a touch-and-go status over his life.
Unfortunately, the financial crisis of the accident and John’s health scare were not all. Joanne was quite ill herself and tests showed a uterine growth. With a biopsy in the mix, Joanne knew there was something serious going on because she was losing weight and feeling terrible all the time.
The rest of the story, as Paul Harvey used to say, is that the money was raised to cover the costs of those Thai boys, John did recover from that hospital stint although with permanent asthma, and the biopsy revealed a growth that could be removed from Joanne’s uterus safely. But the rest of the story did not come to this family for many, many months. It was a long, slow, and painful trial that kept adding insult to injury and in the midst of it, there was incredible potential for their faith to slowly crumble.
But it did not. Through it all, I kept asking Joanne if there was something I could, something specific that I could pray for, something – anything – that could be done for them. Meals were covered and funds were given and prayers were offered; that is the beauty of the Body, but the point of this story is a shining light to me. Though they were at wit’s end and at the mercy of police and financial instability, they were perfectly at peace. Despite what battles were fought in their prayer closets, both Joanne and Chris walked with incredible faith through this difficult time. Their trust in God was a testament to both missionaries and Thai unbelievers alike.
Their peace was not faked. It was also not manufactured on the outside of their lives just to keep up appearances. It was an abiding rest in the only One who could change their circumstances or their attitudes in the midst of their trials. What a witness they were! Their deep well of joy in the presence of their powerful Savior was the bridge over their troubled waters.
Last week we began to look at Matthew 28:1-10, a story of incredible hopelessness that was overcome by the power of God. Matthew’s story begins with all the sadness and despair that Christ’s death brought about, but underlying all of the outward circumstances that seemed insurmountable, we found that there were huge indicators of hope. The prerequisite for hope is always hopelessness, for in the contrast, hope is elevated to an eye-catching status. Even with all of the negativity of a mourner’s tread, hope lay dormant in small pockets of potentiality, mostly because of the Who of hope: Christ Jesus Himself. By the end of verse four, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome were primed for hope and prepped for the continuing work God wanted to do in their faith.
Now we will pick up at verse 5 of this narrative, a story which, by the way, is the picture of the revolutionary hope we have in Christ. Today our focus is on how God continued His work of resurrecting their faith in increments. First, there was hope and today we will see that God resurrected some joy. These two movements plus a third one that we will study next week were enough to bring a resurrected faith to three women whose mourning blocked their belief. Let’s dig in.
All manner of events occurred in the first four verses that would create some fear. There was that violent earthquake, remember? Then an angel came down from heaven, rolled away the stone, and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning and his clothes were white as snow. The guards, who were supposed to be watching the tomb, shook and dropped to the ground like dead men.
I do not know about you but I would have reacted like those guards did or possibly run away altogether. These kinds of supernatural events do not really occur everyday for me and I am fairly sure they do not for you either. But what about when there are circumstances that flare up suddenly, that resist our ability to control them, and strike anxiety into the fabric of our faith? Fear, I think, is a natural response to circumstances that seem so completely beyond our control.
But I also believe that part of coming to a full faith involves dealing with fear. If we are to believe God for who He says He is and what He says He will do, we have to be able to move beyond our fears into immediate, obedient faith, despite our feelings. Fear is a strong feeling and it can immobilize our faith and paralyze our obedience. That is why the angel addresses this feeling right off the bat.
How do you and I relinquish fear? This statement is easy to say and even easier to write, but when the rubber meets the road, how do we say “no” to fear and “yes” to joy? I believe there are three actions in verse 5, “The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified.”
We Need To Attend To What God Says (v 5a)
The opening phrase is very important in this verse. If you remember, last week I mentioned that the angel chose to sit on that stone, signifying that his authority was given by God. God sent him on this mission, a mission to proclaim the risen Christ and so he sat, both to judge and to teach. That teaching assignment is what I want to focus on now.
We are told that the angel “said” some things to those terrified women, but this is not the “saying” that merely spews useless information into the air. This angel was not talking just to hear himself talk; he had something important to say.
This word lego means “to lay forth, relate (in words usually of systematic or set discourse), to mean…to say, speak, affirm, maintain, teach, exhort, advise, to command, direct, point out with words, call by name, to speak out…” (ESV Strong’s). The women’s job was to attentively listen.
Again, I am very aware that you probably will not have an angel dressed in shining white drop into your shopping cart at the grocery store or try to catch a ride with you on the way to pick up your kids from school. Supernatural events like this are rare, but the miraculous and wonderful fact that God does speak is not rare. God is always speaking to us. The problem comes in our attentiveness. We do not take the time to listen or maybe do not yet know His voice.
Romans 1:19-20 says that nature talks to us. What can be known about God has been made plain to mankind. His invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen and men are therefore, without excuse. “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world (Ps. 19:1-4).”
Did you know that our cosmos is a godly teaching tool? What are you hearing about God when you go for a walk or play at a park with your child? Paul and the psalmist agree that even in the great outdoors, we can be attentive to God’s voice, that He is using His creation to say something to us.
There are other ways to hear God’s voice. God speaks through people so a conversation can be a means of teaching us what God is trying to do in our lives. Sermons are a great means of hearing God’s voice along with prayer, both corporate and individual. The Word of God is His primary tool to share His truths with us and the Spirit speaks to us also through our minds if we are listening. Just because we do not meet up with an angel on a daily basis does not mean that God is not speaking to us; He is very active in engaging with us in conversation. How are you at listening?
The first step in relinquishing fear is to sit in an attentive stance at Jesus’ feet. I love the story of Mary and Martha that is famous for this very principle. Martha welcomed Jesus into her home. Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. She went up to Jesus and tattled on her sister, asking him why He did not seem to care that Mary had left her to serve alone.
Listen to Jesus’ response, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:38-42). Did you catch that word “anxious?” In complaining to Jesus that He did not care about her, Jesus saw her real problem; she was afraid. Afraid of missing out. Afraid of feeling insignificant. Afraid also of being unseen and unheard. He acknowledged her need, but called it what it was: fear.
What is the one thing that is needed? This is a question that many commentators throw around, but I am fairly sure it has to do with a still (sat), surrendered (at his feet), attentive (listening) stance before Him. Jesus took the time to share with Martha what He desired people to do when He teaches. He wants them to sit at his feet and listen. There would be time for serving, but when God is saying something, He wants us to be attentive.
We are often so anxious about aspects of our lives that God has already promised to handle. For example, we get anxious about food or clothes or shelter. But in Matthew 6:25ff, Christ specifically told us not to be anxious about these things. He will clothe us. He will feed us. He will take care of us.
Martha was anxious, deep inside, about being overlooked, and we are often anxious about the same things. But God has promised to see us, to walk with us, and to never leave us alone. Our anxieties – a gentler name for fear – blind us to the truths God is sharing with us, to the truths He speaks over us all the time…if we are only willing to be attentive to His voice.
The angel sat on that stone for a couple of reasons but one of them was to teach the women a number of important truths. But first, they had to be in an attentive stance. They had to be willing to listen to what he had to say. Their fear would be greatly diminished by their desire to walk in the truth of what God has spoken more than to walk by sight in depleting circumstances.
Fear is exacerbated by circumstances. When we see only the mountains in the way, our faith shrinks and our doubts immobilize our steps. We need to understand that fear has no place in our faithwalk. Fear must be dealt with or it will undermine the undercurrents of truth God is speaking. In order to eradicate fear, we must learn to sit quietly at God’s feet and listen attentively to the truths that He speaks. This resolution will begin to cut away at the boulders of fear in our souls.
We Need To Address The Fear Head-on (v 5b)
I think it is highly significant that the first truth the angel says has nothing to do with Christ, His missing body, the miraculous resurrection, or even the empty tomb. He first addresses their lack of faith. This is important because we will not be able to absorb any truth unless we see the obstacles that are in the way. Fear was the obstacle blocking these three women’s faith and so the angel said first, “Do not be afraid.”
Counselors are very good at helping people process the “whys” of their behavior. But Christians fall quite short in this discipline. I think this is because pastors and leaders tell people that they just must have faith. They need to be in the Word and apply the Word to their lives. This is true, but hard to do. Though a strong believer should not doubt, the fact is: everyone doubts. So what we do is create an atmosphere in the church where people cannot be real. They cannot share their concerns, their struggles, their doubts in a safe place without feeling judged.
Honestly, many pastors do not even know how to help people with these kinds of soul issues. They know the Word and how to apply it to a problem, but they do not know how to deal with feelings and how those feelings block being able to hear the Word in this first place. That is why Christian counselors are visited in hordes by people from the church; the church just does not feel safe.
I want you to know this is a particular passion of mine. I have found so much healing in my life by allowing myself to be authentic to God and to a few godly friends. When we bring our deepest soul cries into the presence of God and name the problem for what it is – anger, bitterness, fear, etc – we shine the light of righteousness upon that cry. By opening up our hearts and being bluntly honest with one another, we allow the Holy Spirit to show us what is really going on in our hearts.
Mary and her friends were at the empty tomb, the very symbol of our Christian hope, and they were given a message central to the gospel. That message was that because Christ had risen, they did not need to fear anymore. And that same message is spoken to you and to me today, but we need to be willing to look deep within, to allow the holy scalpel of God’s Words to penetrate past our defenses, past our walls, past our hurts, to get to the root of our unbelief.
The angel drove straight to the heart of their problem and rebuked the fear that sat in their souls like tombstones. By naming their faith-obstacle, he invited them to address their fears. Jesus declared His intention to come into the world as a light, so that no one who believed in Him would have to stay in darkness (Jn. 12:46). The angel issued a Jesus-request to those fear-darkened women: “Come into the light.”
If you are struggling with doubts in your faith, I offer you a safe place at the feet of Jesus and in the presence of godly supporters. I extend to you the same exhortation as the angel’s: “Come into the light.” Allow the Holy Spirit to name your doubts, name your reasons for fearing. Share them with God and with a trusted friend and break their power by opening up their sordid array with the sword of truth. If you do this, if you live by the light of God’s presence, you will come into the light and what will be plainly seen is what God will do in you (Jn. 3:21).
Another way the angel addressed the fear was through an intimate disclosure. He told the women they did not need to be afraid because he knew (v 5b). That word oida means not just to know about, but to “have seen, know, and understand” (ESV Strong’s). It is a personal word, a word that describes something close and familiar.
David was bowled over by this truth of God’s knowledge. He listed God’s knowing him personally, knowing when he sat and got up, knowing when he went out and when he laid down. Even before a word came to his tongue, he acknowledged that God knew it completely (Ps. 139:1-4). Nothing he thought, nothing he said, and nothing he did was a surprise to God; He knew David intimately.
How encouraging it is that though the angel rebuked the women for their fear, drawing up out of them the truth of their doubts, he also coupled it with a loving concern. Your God does not just beat you over the head with the truth, but He gently moves His love into your heart and roots out the problem by His concern and care.
A faith struggle can arise out of many feelings: feelings of abandonment, feelings of rejection, feelings of disappointment and feelings of worthlessness. But most of these feelings oozingly seep from something far more insidious: fear. If we are going to move into a resurrected faith, we must be willing to face those fears head on. Name them. Call them out into the light. Hold them before God and ask Him to shine His truth on them. But do it all in love.
God does not rebuke out of judgment; He exhorts out of tender mercy. If you are facing some fears and feel nothing but condemnation, guilt and self-recrimination, you are forgetting the other half of the angel’s address to fear. He was clear to say that God knows. God knows your hurts. He knows your frame (Ps. 103:14 – NKJV). He has compassion on all He has made (Ps. 145:9). And out of that intimate love, He invites you to address your fears in His arms of safety. Fear runs in the presence of love (1 Jn. 4:18).
We Need To Assess What We Are Seeking (v 5c)
The ESV translates the last portion of verse 5 in this way, “I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.” That word ‘seek’ can be used in a positive way and a negative way, just like in English. It can mean “to seek in order to find” by thinking or meditating, reasoning or enquiring into. But it can also mean “to require, demand, crave, demand something from someone” (ESV Strong’s).
A crucial question to ask yourself in the midst of a faith crisis is, “What am I seeking?” If your answer comes back with a soul cry that is being unmet in this world, you’ve got a search team out seeking something that opposes God’s will. Let me give you an example that we were just talking about in our family devotions this morning.
In 2006, it was clear that God wanted us to sell our house in the States before leaving for the mission field. I was scared spitless to take that action; it seemed too final. I wrestled with the Lord for a couple of days on this issue and finally realized that I was seeking the wrong thing in all of my anxiety and fear: I was seeking security on this earth.
I knew that if we sold that house, the only home I had ever owned would be forever gone. And with that house went memories, a sure place to come back to, and possibly even a retirement place. By selling that house, God was asking me if I was all in, if I was willing to give everything up to be His disciple. The rich man in Luke struggled with this question because of his wealth just like I struggled with this question because of my rootlessness.
I did give in to the Lord, but it was tough. That wrestling match cost me a lot, but in the end, God sold that house in 24 hours, brought in the last fifty percent of our support just like that, and taught me a valuable lesson on obedience.
I was afraid that if I sold the house, I would be homeless. Rootless. Lost. God wanted me to see that I was seeking a good thing in a wrong way. He wanted to be my home. He wanted to be my root. He wanted to be my security. Seeking safety in a house was against His will for me, but I only came to see that truth because I was attentive to His voice first, and second, I addressed my fear. Through that process I began to assess my longings and lay them at God’s feet and God not only took away my fear, He replaced it with a great trust in His ability to provide for my security.
Mary and her friends were also seeking, but notice that they were looking for Christ. This is the difference between fear and trust. If you are looking to fulfill your longings, you will find only pain and fear. If you are looking for Jesus, you will find Him and along with His presence, you will experience joy.
In taking the three steps outlined above, you may be able to eliminate some of the fear in your faith. These three actions fall under the first step outlined in Ephesians 4:22, “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires…” We attend to God, address the fear, and assess our longings for one purpose: to put off the fear that has sunk its claws deep into our belief system.
But there is another step in the rise of joy. We are also “to be made new in the attitude of our minds” (Eph. 4:23). If you are unsure of what that entails, Romans 12:2 has some clues. We are not to conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of our minds.
Not allowing ourselves to conform to the world’s mold goes a long way in having a new mind attitude, but the other step of transforming our minds is done in two ways. We have to open ourselves up to the power of the Holy Spirit, who is in the business of spiritual reconstruction, and we have to be in the Word…a lot. These two strengths at our ready disposal will go the distance in making our minds new. And if these steps still seem too abstract, we have the picture of the tomb to help us out.
We Must Recognize The Lie (Luke 24:5)
We left the women listening attentively to the angel’s teaching in Matthew’s rendition, but Luke asks a very important question in his re-telling of the resurrection events. Luke 24:5 says, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”
This question really spoke to me when I was meditating on where God wanted to go with this devotional. Because this question is so loaded, I want to break apart its components to really understand the whole.
First, notice that the angel speaks of the dead. The struggle I am having right now in my faith walk is joy. I am being obedient, but underneath my obedience is a decided grief and I believe I have unmasked the root of sadness. It is a common root: fear.
God showed me what I am afraid of by bringing to mind Hebrews 11:6: “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” I do not struggle with the first part of faith’s requirements. I do believe God exists and I love Him and follow Him closely, but God revealed that there is something still missing in my faith. That missing ingredient is the dead-sure belief that God rewards me when I earnestly seek Him.
My faith, according to this bit of revelation, is still among the dead. You see, I can count many times where I have sought God earnestly and not felt rewarded. Additionally, I have been obedient in faithfulness without seeing results, obedient in prayerfulness without receiving answers to prayer and obedient in standing up from my circumstances, only to never have them change. So consequently, my faithfulness feels expired. My prayerfulness feels deceased and my choice to stand up appears dead. A lot of my seeking God seems to be among the departed.
Do you get this? Do you feel the same way about your unanswered prayers and unchanging circumstances? Does God seem to punish instead of reward? Ahhh, now that is a hard question to answer honestly, but I will answer it honestly. Yes, God sometimes seems to punish my seeking Him earnestly with a penalty instead of a reward, but that is due to an earthly perspective.
What God spoke to me from this verse was that a fear lay dormant under my faith. I have to realize that I am afraid to trust for fear that I will be disappointed again. I am afraid to obey fully for fear that God will give me something that feels like discipline instead of reward. I am afraid to hope because hope is so tenuous in light of the fear of penalty. In short, I am struggling with God’s love for it seems to me like God rewards others far more than He rewards me. And that is an appallingly dead lie.
Jesus is not going to be found among the dead things of our lives. We keep Him there because we are too afraid to hope for fear of being disappointed. But this is the Risen Lord. He is among the living, Luke says. He is the Resurrection and the Life. He breathes and new things are created. He speaks and worlds are formed. He loves and people are drawn to His goodness. This is the Jesus we serve.
The question, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” is a penetrating one. I have answered it with the truths of Hebrews 11:6. How would you answer it? Where does your faith fall short of God’s will? What dead things are you celebrating? What living things are you ignoring? And why, my friend, are you waffling between the two?
If “you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen…” (Mt. 28:5c, 6a). And in these couple of phrases is a potent, mind-blowing truth. The angel did not stop with the women’s search for Jesus. He added a phrase that is very telling: “who was crucified,” and in that revealing statement, a world of gospel wisdom is hidden. The angel, by noting their preoccupation with a dead Christ, was helping them to realize the flaws in their seeking.
You see, Christ was not dead. He had done the unbelievable, the miraculous and inconceivable. He had come back to life; He had risen from that tomb, risen from the dead, and risen out of horrific circumstances.
They were seeking a dead Christ who no longer existed. In bringing spices – as per the law – to anoint a dead body, they were, in essence, living out a dead faith. He arose to obliterate the law; instead of rules, He instigated grace. They walked a mournful tread due to lack of understanding, yet He arose to bring joyful perception. They believed Him to be impotent, but He was not. Death had no mastery over Him (Rom. 6:9). “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?…Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:54-57).
So many believers live their faith-walk before God like these women. They say they are followers of Jesus, but they do not remember what He says; they are not attentive. They go to church and sing worship songs week after week, all the while struggling with deep issues inside, but they do not engage their souls. They do not address their fears to bring them into Christ’s light. They decry idolatry in their lives and criticize people who are obviously more lost than they, while all the time, they too, have refused to assess what they are seeking. If they did, they would realize that they are seeking the wrong things and covering them up with “Christian-ese.” And worst of all, they celebrate Christ’s resurrection at Easter, and fail to incorporate this truth about God into the fabric of the other 364 days of the year. Their faith is weak because they are still seeking a dead Christ.
My friend, weak faith is always built on a lie. If your belief system is wobbling dangerously close to an edge of sadness or anger or bitterness, you have allowed Satan to infiltrate your mind with a lie. The first step to remembering truth and forsaking fear is to ferret out the untruths that dot the landscape of your faith.
The question on the table is, “What are you seeking?” If you are looking to fulfill longings in anyone or anything else besides God, you have an idol causing some fear in your life; it is an idol based on a lie. Additionally, if you are seeking something, but only finding a crucified Christ, you will have no joy, no power, no faith to live your life in victory. Your faith is running on the empty fumes of a lie.
Recall The Truth (v6)
Mary and company were called to attention with four words. “He is not here; he has risen, just as he said” (v 6). Those four important words form the foundation of truth. They help us recall the plumbline by which we align our faith. They reveal to us what is false and remind us of the path to truth.
Mary and her friends had walked the mourner’s tread to the tomb, completely forgetting all that Christ had told them. And in this forgetfulness, they were consumed with sadness. So it stands to reason that if they could just remember, they would experience joy once again.
Psalm 78 outlines the sad truth about the men of Ephraim. Though they were armed with bows, they turned back on the day of battle. They did not keep God’s covenant and they refused to live by His law. Why? Because they forgot what he had done and they forgot the wonders and miracles He had shown them (vv 9-11).
The Israelites were indicted on two other accounts for the same rationale. They soon forgot what God had done and did not wait for his counsel. They gave in to their craving and God sent a wasting disease upon them (Ps. 106:13-15). Later on again they forgot the God who saved them and His miracles and would have been destroyed had not Moses stood in the breach before Him (Ps. 106:21-23).
What a travesty! The experience of wasting away, of having to give into cravings, of almost being destroyed by the holiness of God – and all because they forgot Him. Friend, forgetting is serious business. Not only does it lead to behaviors that must be punished by a holy God, it leaves us open to Satan’s attacks and ultimately, wastes away our faith by great fear.
Recalling the truth of what God has said is so important to both the removal of fear and the building up of our faith. When the angel reminded the women of what Christ had said, all of a sudden, something began to shift in their faith.
What had Jesus said to them?
They were reminded of His Person. He is the Living Water (Jn 4:14), the Bread of Life (Jn. 6:41), the “I Am” that preceded Abraham (Jn. 8:58). He is the gate for the sheep (Jn. 10:7) and the good shepherd (Jn. 10:11). He is the resurrection and the life (Jn. 11:25) and He came into the world to be a light (Jn. 12:46). He was the way, the truth, and the life (Jn. 14:6). All of these reminders – and many more – came flooding back to them as they reminded themselves of His truths.
He reminded them of His miracles. He had raised the dead, healed the sick, and cast out demons. He had turned water into wine, calmed a storm, and multiplied bread to feed thousands from just a few loaves of bread and fish. They had seen him transfigured along with Moses and Elijah. He had slipped through crowds and challenged the Pharisees. All of these miraculous events – and many more – came rushing back to them as they were reminded about what He had said.
They were reminded of His prophecies:
- If the temple was destroyed, he would raise it again in three days (Jn. 2:19).
- Just like Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, He would also be lifted up so that everyone who believes may have eternal life (Jn. 3:14-15).
- God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him (Jn. 3:17).
- They would always have the poor among them, but they would not always have Jesus (Jn. 12:7).
- When Christ was lifted up from the earth, he would draw all men to Himself (Jn. 12:32).
- He was going to prepare a place for them and then would come back to take them to Himself (Jn. 14:3).
- He would be like Jonah: three days and nights in the heart of the earth (Mt. 12: 40).
- He had to go to Jerusalem, suffer many things and be killed and on the third day be raised to life (Mt. 16:21).
- He would be betrayed, killed, but on the third day he would be raised to life (Mt. 17:23; 20:19).
All of these prophecies – and many more – came flooding back to them as they remembered things just as He had said.
The step of renewing one’s mind begins with rejecting the lies. This has to be a hard-fought search for the infiltration of the enemy. Once those lies are found, the next step is to remember what Jesus said. Remember the statements about His Person. Remember His character. Remember His ways and remember what He has prophesied and promised. These statements by Jesus can and should be your lifeline to overcoming fear in your life.
Refute The Lie With Evidence (v 6c)
The angel had one more important exhortation for the women before he gave them a mission. Listen to the words at the end of verse 6, “Come and see the place where He lay.”
It is interesting that when Joseph of Arimathea took the body, wrapped it in cloth, placed it in a new tomb, and rolled a stone in front of the entrance, he then went away from the tomb (Mt. 27:60). But although he left the tomb, there were people who remained. Matthew tells us that Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there opposite the tomb.
This is so important; do not miss it. Both Mary’s saw Jesus’ dead body placed in the tomb. They witnessed the evidence of a dead Christ. They mourned while he was brought from the cross, draped with ceremonial wrapping cloth and left alone in an empty tomb. They watched the stone be rolled in front of that huge mausoleum. They saw the evidences of a dead Christ; they were witnesses to His death and His burial.
What evidences of a dead Christ do you see in your life? Do you see evidence of a child running from God or a marriage failing before your eyes? Is a dead Christ verified by a stagnant ministry or a slowly deadening faith? Do your circumstances give proof of a hopeless future or an inability to provide for your family?
Name the circumstantial evidence. Bring it before the risen Lord. Show the substantiation of a dead Christ in your life, but do not stay there by that empty tomb. Name it to release it. Bring it before the Lord to be quickened, enlivened, overwhelmed. Show the proof to allow it to be refuted.
The angel was aware of their prior observation of a dead Christ. He knew that if they did not see evidence of a living Christ, they would continue to remember what their eyes had already witnessed to the death of their dreams, their hopes, their joys and their faith.
He asked them to see the place where Christ lay. In so doing, they would not see a body. They would only see the evidence that was: the cloth and the emptiness. I believe God wanted them to witness the unseen. They could not see Jesus with their own eyes; they could only see the evidence that He was not dead.
What evidences in your life show that Jesus is not dead? Is He quickening His Word to you? Are you hearing His voice? Is there a growing intimacy between you and Him? Is He answering some prayers, providing for your needs, and directing your footsteps? Is He present in your church, in your friendships and in your small groups?
You may not see Christ, just like those women by the tomb, but God may be asking you to see with spiritual eyes. He may desire you to also witness the unseen: the movements of grace in your life, the breath of the Spirit in your speech, and the compassion of the Father in your eyes.
Do not dwell on the dead Christ. That is a horrific lie of Satan. For your faith to be resurrected, you must dwell on the unseen. Recognize the lies. Recall to mind the truths that He has spoken. And refute those lies with the evidence of a risen Lord.
Christ has risen and with that resounding truth, it is high time to shift your faith from a crucified Christ to a risen one. If you are professing a resurrection with your mouth, but celebrating a funeral in your heart, you are only living out half of the gospel. It is high time to allow the risen Lord to shed His light on your fear and resurrect your dusty faith!
The angel was not finished teaching those wonder-filled women. He had some more faith-building words to say to them, “Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you” (v 7).
Remember that our goal today is to somehow revive some joy. We saw first that a joy-movement begins when we work hard to relinquish fear. This is the putting off portion of Ephesians 4:22. Fear is further banished by the choice to remember truth like in Ephesians 4:23. One renews the mind by remembering what Jesus has told us. But there is one more step in Ephesians 4:24, “and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”
You and I are new creations in Christ, which means we have incredible power at our disposal as well as a new nature living within our spirits. The Holy Spirit, in addition, lives in us and works His righteousness out through us. All we have to do is give Him full control. We do that by releasing all feelings that stand in opposition to faith. We enable Him full access also by living in the truth of the Word. This last step, however, is one many people often forget: we need to stand in the truth of who we are in Christ.
The angel, in telling the women these last instructions, was reminding them of their new nature. The first instruction comes in the word “go.” It is a strong word meaning “to traverse, travel, remove, die, depart, go away, to continue on one’s journey, to lead or order one’s life” (ESV Strong’s). My CWSB dictionary defines this further, “a passing or passage, to transport oneself, to go from one place to another.
What does this mean? I believe the angel was telling them they needed to make a change, a resolution, if you will. They needed to stop mourning at the tomb of a dead Christ. They were to depart from this kind of living, to pass on to something else, to go from celebrating death to celebrating life. There was to be a change and if you will notice, the angel says to “go quickly.”
As a new saint in Christ, we are to turn from our old ways and live in newness of life. We are to leave behind the trappings that encumber us, to put of everything that entangles us and to run the race set before us (Heb. 12:1). And we are to do it quickly.
Friend, delayed obedience is really disobedience. And so we see that in putting on the new self, we need to make a 180 degree turn in the opposite direction. And we need to go quickly.
Secondly, we see the angel instructing the women to tell the other disciples. This word lego is the same one used of the angel “saying” all of these things to the women. They are to teach, to instruct, to lay forth the good news to them.
I am sure you can see the correlation for our lives. As new creatures in Christ, those who have been rescued from the kingdom of darkness and brought into the kingdom of light, we are also to tell others about Christ’s power and resurrection. Putting on the new self involves telling others about Jesus’ resurrection.
The message is clearly laid out: He has risen from the dead. But I will warn you of something. If you are living in sadness, in bitterness, in the trappings of a dead faith, you will not have a very strong witness. You are yourself believing only half of the gospel. You must have an encounter with God that revitalizes your faith before you can share it with integrity. But all of those who have put on the new self share this good message that Jesus is risen from the dead, both with their words and with their actions.
Notice also an incredibly personal note. The angel told the women that Jesus was going before them, going ahead of them into Galilee. And that they would see Him there. What a precious promise! What incredible assurance that word must have brought to those ladies!
I found a little nugget of truth as I looked up some aspects of Galilee. Galilee was the central location of Jesus’ earthly ministry. It was where Jesus did a huge number of his miracles. It was where he lived a good portion of his three years in ministry. The women would know this to be an important place for Jesus to show up.
But something else is hidden in that word Galilee. It literally means “circuit or circle,” and in that meaning is a precious promise. The angel told the women to go to Galilee where Jesus would reveal Himself to them. In essence, he was telling them that Jesus would bring their faith full circle.
A person who is new in Christ, who is putting on the new self, who is created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness, will come full circle. After the death, after the doubts, after the pain and the suffering and the fear, there will be a change. The resurrection of Christ will take root in the doubting one’s faith. The gospel will change their life and God will bring their weak belief system into a stronger, more resilient, more powerful, effective and fruitful faith. It is a promise; the promise of seeing them in Galilee.
But more than that, it is a promise for our future. We will not ever be completely whole on this earth. God is bringing us into conformity with His Son, but the completion waits for a more perfect Galilee. “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure” (1 Jn. 3:2-3).
A day is coming, my friend, when you will never be rocked by the seen circumstances again. You will be changed in a moment, in a twinkling of an eye (1 Cor. 15:52) and you will rise to meet Jesus in the air. He has gone ahead of you to prepare for you a perfect, full circle Galilee. Glory to God in the highest!
The Witnesses’ Return
You will remember the slow tread of the mourner’s march as the women trudged disconsolately to the tomb. Most of that sadness has been overturned. They have been prepared for change by hope. They have dealt with a lot of their fear by relinquishing the lies, recalling what Jesus said and reviving their faith based on the truth of who they are now in the power of the risen Christ.
In verse 8, we see the miraculous change in these women. “So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples.” They are moving away from the tomb in both their minds and in their actions. Not only are they moving away from the death-like trance of their unbelief, but they are hurrying quickly toward their given mission to tell the disciples the truth of the gospel, which has changed their grief to joy.
When I first began to study this passage a couple of weeks ago, I was drawn to this particular verse. I was intrigued by the fact that the women experienced both fear and joy at the same time. Some versions go so far as to say “great joy.” I wondered what that could possibly mean. How can someone experience fear and great joy at the same time?
This dichotomy is still working itself out in my consciousness and I am not sure I have the complete answer yet, but three ideas do present themselves rather quickly. The first is that the presence of two different emotions seems to be fairly normally received. Matthew states this emotional coexistence quite matter of factly, as if it is no big deal.
I find this very encouraging, because it indicates to me that under the penmanship of the Holy Spirit, faith is a very fluid, versatile commodity. It lives and breathes as our circumstances bob and weave. We may be able to take on one sovereignly-designed trial with ease and very little disturbance to our belief system, while another trouble can rock us to our core. Neither reaction disqualifies us from experiencing joy, though one may take a lot longer to work through.
The second notion I glean is that fear can be present without being a sin. These women had experienced hope, they had experienced supernatural miracles, they had experienced the truth, and were even then moving to obey with a surrendered heart, and all the while fear was present intermingled with their joy. This speaks to me of courage. Fear should be overcome by the joy of being in God’s presence, but it appears that it can exist with faith. Ultimately, it it does not disqualify a person from experiencing joy in the end. This fear is not debilitating because it has been laid bare in the light of Christ. Joy supersedes the paralyzing effect of fear withheld in darkness.
The last impression I take from this dual existence is that there is still more to come. The presence of fear and joy in the heart tells me that the women’s faith was not yet completely built up. They had one more step to take on their journey to faith and that is the movement of love. We will look into this thought more deeply next week, but for now, encourage yourself with this thought that brings us full circle to my opening story.
Joanne and Chris presented an outside response of peace to their very stressful circumstances, a response that was supernaturally-endowed, I believe. Did they have some doubts? Probably. Did they have some fears for their future? You’d better believe it. Were they concerned about how God was going to bring them through for His glory and for their ultimate good? I am sure of it.
So was their faith weak? Did they struggle with a debilitating sadness that God was not going to come through for them, that He did not love them, and was out to punish them? No, I think they worked through all of that with the Lord in the sanctuary of their hearts.
What I am fairly sure about, however, is that they went through the process of addressing those fears. They had to deal with some lies being whispered by Satan and replace those lies with the truths of the gospel. Somewhere along the way, the impact of their risen Lord replaced the majority of their fears with a joy unbounded. Despite their fears, doubts, and concerns, they walked in the truth that they had an unlimited, resurrection power at their disposal and were held in the hands of a sovereign, but very loving, God. These two truths demolished what fears were left and resurrected a faith that shone with the evidence of the Gospel.
Precious one, I do not know what trial or tomb-like experience God has brought into your life, but I do know the Christ who defies death and brings victory. Just like Joanne and Chris, you can walk a path of peace in the midst of some horrifying experiences and walk it straight on into a peace and joy of your own.
Relinquish your fears. Remember truth. Allow God to revive your faith. It just might change your tomb into a Galilee, bringing you full circle from unbelief to resurrection faith. This is the risen Christ we are talking about who not only can rise from the dead, raise your faith from the ashes, but also raise us up with Him. “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:6).
Friend, that kind of truth calls for a joyful celebration.