Easter is the most important day on the Christian calendar. I guess I've always had things a little confused, because if you asked me what the most important day on the calendar is, I'd always, without hesitation, say CHRISTMAS. And honestly, I've always felt just a little bit guilty about that.
I guess it's because I really like happy endings. Actually, I like amazing endings, and not just happy endings. I like stories that have glorious conclusions, where all the characters are metaphorically (or sometimes even literally) staring off into the sunset, feeling fulfilled. The strife is ending and a new adventure, a seemingly perfect adventure, is beginning.
My favorite Star Wars film is "The Return of the Jedi" because it is a glorious conclusion to the story (for the time being, I am in denial and refuse to acknowledge that more Star Wars films are being made, and when they are made, they probably won't count anyway). My favorite LOTR movie/book is "The Return of the King" because it is a glorious ending, where Frodo sails home into the Gray Havens, and Samwise goes back to his home in the shire with his family. I like glorious conclusions.
So I'm not sure why Easter doesn't seem as amazing as Christmas, since Easter is the glorious conclusion--Jesus states "it is finished," dies, and then defeats death forever. Maybe it's because I'm looking forward into Revelation where Jesus will come again and "the last enemy to be destroyed is death." But I don't think that's it either. I don't really see Christmas, Easter, the Rapture (or whatever you want to call it) as separate stories, as I would different books or movies in popular series. The Bible is made up of a lot of stories, but it is one book--one amazing book about the Holy God, a sinful people, His work to bring them back to Him, and His glorious, eternal reign.
Christmas is my favorite time of year for a lot of reasons, but mainly because it's when God came down to be with us. But that wasn't the beginning, just as Easter wasn't the end. The truth is, there is no beginning and no end to this story.
But today in church we were looking at a passage of Scripture, Matthew 28:1-10. The sermon was good, but sometimes--well, a lot of times--the Holy Spirit has something to say to me that takes a little detour from what the preacher is saying. Today was one of those times.
Because last Christmas, I was really intrigued by what the angels had to say to those they visited. Every time they visited someone, they always said, "Fear not." "Don't be afraid." And when I was younger, I thought they were just saying that because, hey, angels are probably pretty scary. If you read a Biblical description of an angel, they don't look like naked babies or beautiful ladies with feathery wings. They look, well, pretty freaky, with seventeen bazgillion eyes and lots of wings and flaming swords and such. Sometimes they're described as looking like men, but even then, their appearance is probably enough to cause fear. So I think that part of the reasons why the angels started their discourse with "don't be afraid" was probably because they were frightening.
But last Christmas, as I was reading, I discovered that every time the angels said "Fear not" to someone in the Christmas story, they always gave a reason why there should be no fear. To Mary, Gabriel said, "Do not be afraid, Mary; FOR you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end."
To Joseph, the angel said, "Don't be afraid to take Mary as your wife, FOR the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins."
To the shepherds, the angel said, "Do not be afraid, FOR behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; FOR today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior who is Christ the Lord."
And then today while reading the Scripture from Matthew 28, I noticed something. The women, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, went to the tomb where Jesus had been placed after his death. But instead of finding Jesus, the women found an angel sitting on the stone that had been rolled away. The guards had fainted. The women and the angel were alone. And the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid, FOR I know you are looking for Jesus who has been crucified. He is not here, for He has risen just as He said."
The angel also told the women to go and tell the disciples what they had witnessed. Scripture states that they left the tomb with both fear and joy. And I imagine that they were just shaking all over, so excited, so amazed, so in awe of the greatest news that they had ever heard or would ever hear, so overcome that they couldn't have kept it to themselves, even if they had wanted to.
And I imagine the shepherds were also shaking all over, trembling with both fear and joy, as they rushed from their pastures and ran to go find the Savior of which the angels had spoken. It was the greatest news they had ever heard or would ever hear. And they were glorifying and praising God, unable to keep it to themselves, even if they had wanted to. I somehow doubt it really was that much of a silent night.
Because with all the reasons the angels gave to have no fear, all of those reasons were really ever pointing back to one thing: Jesus had come. There was a Savior. The Savior was God Himself, come to redeem sinful man back to Himself. Because the story of Easter, the story of Christmas, the story of EVERYTHING is that God is Holy, man is sinful, and the only thing that ever could save us from God's judgment and wrath is God's mercy and love.
We should be afraid. We are all sinners, all rebels. We've rejected God and lived to please ourselves. By breaking part of the Law, we've broken all of it, and there should be no hope for us. But the angels gave us the answer. "FEAR NOT!" We don't have to be afraid. Jesus came so we wouldn't have to be afraid.
And that frees us up to live, really live for God's glory. Satan is crafty with those half-truths, and I think a lot of people miss the reason why God redeems us, and I fear by missing part of the story, they miss all of it. God redeems us because He loves us. So many people want to end that sentence with a period, but there really should be a comma. God redeems us because He loves us, and so that we can live lives that proclaim His glory.
When we live lives that proclaim His glory, we are who He created us to be. We are benefited, oh yes, we are definitely benefited. But more importantly, most importantly, the God who is worthy of all glory is greatly glorified.
The story doesn't end because He's the One writing it. The work of Redemption is finished, but the One who Redeemed is alive! Jesus, God in flesh, came down, died, and rose again.
Jesus. He is why we don't have to be afraid.