Audio Worship 3/31/2024, "Easter: A Mix of Fear and Joy" Matthew 28.1-10

Princeton Presbyterian Church Sermon # 1631

March 31, 2024

Matthew 28:1-10      Click here for audio worship.

Dr. Ed Pettus


“Easter: A Mix of Fear and 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. 2And 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. 3His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. 5But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. 6He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7Then 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.” 8So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. 10Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”


  • A Mix of Fear and Joy


What a frightening moment – to realize that Jesus had been raised from the dead. The soldiers were already afraid because an angel had appeared and sat on the stone. I imagine the angel sitting on the stone as a statement mocking the Roman guards, in essence saying, “Do you really think a stone will stop God from raising Jesus?” So the guards, the story says, shook and became like dead men. They froze! They were too afraid to run, like a dream when danger is near but you cannot move. It was something so beyond their comprehension they were paralyzed by it. Wouldn’t you like to interview those guys? I wonder what happened to them after this event. Did they come to believe in Jesus? Did they try to wipe it from memory? Maybe we will find out in heaven.

The women came to the tomb and they feared as well, because the first words out of the angels mouth to them is, “do not be afraid.” They were fearful. I suspect each one of us would have had the same reaction. Many of us would have turned to run, or been frozen like the soldiers. The fear stayed with the women. When they leave the tomb the story says they were leaving quickly with fear and joy. What a mix of emotions! Afraid and happy all at the same time. Trembling and smiling from ear to ear. When Jesus meets them on the path and after he greets them, the first thing he says is, “Do not be afraid.”

Easter fear – Jesus who was crucified, dead, and buried is now alive. If this were a fantasy horror movie we might laugh, but it is Jesus Christ, the man who called it himself, “After three days I will rise again.” It is not a movie, but a wooden cross, iron nails, last breath, a tomb, a stone, death. At dawn, the earth quakes, that’s enough to bring fear – but there is also an angel, an empty tomb, burial clothe left behind, and he is not there. What went through the women’s minds? Did they first think someone had taken the body or did they remember right away what Jesus had said? Either way, they feared.

Resurrection is such a larger event than our mundane experiences, such a huge event compared to the death we have seen, and the resurrections we have never seen. Fear is a reasonable feeling and emotion.

Do not be afraid, says the angel. Do not be afraid, says Jesus. The fear is difficult to set aside. So the fear gets mixed with joy! This is what we want in the resurrection – joy! We can relate to joy, we want to relate to joy, we want the joy of resurrection in our lives. That joy comes to all who believe because the resurrection we celebrate today means so much for our lives. But we also might need to put a little fear in the mix. The fear of the Lord and the fear of death to life. That fear can come to our own existence as Jesus brings us from death to life. Jesus works a change in our lives and in our hearts. We become a new creation, putting to death the old nature, the old self, the sinfulness and unrighteousness that is crucified with Christ so that it is no longer we who live but Christ who lives in us (Galatians 2.20).

We fear that change until we get to the other side and the joy buries the fear. Do not be afraid, for joy comes in the morning, joy comes in the empty tomb, joy comes in the Living One who died and rose again that we might also live.



  • Meaning of Resurrection


What does the resurrection mean? It means ...He lives!


  • Because He lives we now know that Jesus was exactly who He claimed to be. Jesus said to [Martha], "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26).


Jesus said to [Thomas], "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6

Everything Jesus had said to the people and to the disciples was validated in the resurrection. Everything Jesus was about, everything told of Him in the Old Testament, was fulfilled in the resurrection. Everything that matters for our salvation and reconciliation to God was complete in the resurrection.


  • Because He lives, we now know Jesus has the power and authority over everything He commands. “And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me’” (Matthew 28:19).


For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father” (John 10:17-18).


  • Because He lives, we now know Jesus does what He promises to do.


See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. 34And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise” (Mark 10:33-34).



But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. 6He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay” (Matthew 28:5-6).


  • Why Resurrection Matters

Why does the resurrection matter? Because...He lives!


  • In the cross and resurrection, our past is forgiven. We have a new beginning through repentance. We are forgiven.

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:13-14).


There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

The resurrection reconciles us to God. We are brought into right relationship with the Creator. We are a new creation and God sees us through the lens of the cross and resurrection.


  • The resurrection matters because we have help for our present troubles straight from the same power that raised Jesus from the dead.

...[to know] what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:19-20).

Paul understood that no matter what circumstance we find ourselves, we have help in Christ.

I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:12-13).

The resurrection gives us gifts for life.


  • Because of the resurrection, we have hope for our future.


And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3).

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3).

The resurrection gives us hope.


These are but a few of the many reasons the resurrection is celebrated and honored and why we might also stand before the tomb in fear and joy. Easter bring joy, so we can sing, praise, and celebrate if we truly trust in Christ. His resurrection has tremendous meaning for our lives. We would have probably had great fear if we were at the tomb, but we have no reason to fear any longer. All that we need for life, fulfillment, and joy is accounted for in the resurrection.

So rejoice today! Take great joy in Easter Sunday, and for that matter in every Sunday, for the resurrection is the reason we worship on this day of the week. Joy, joy, joy – may we all know that joy in the risen Christ. He is risen! Do not be afraid, but rejoice. All glory to God. Amen.