34Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality,35but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.36You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ — he is Lord of all. 37That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: 38how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.
39We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; 40but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, 41not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. 43All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
1After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men.
5But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.7Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.”
8So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, 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; there they will see me.”
Once there was a man named Jesus. God sent him to bring light and healing into a world full of trouble and pain. Jesus taught people about God’s kingdom and love. He healed the sick and welcomed people who were caught at the edges of society and rejected by religious people.
Jesus gathered huge crowds who were longing for God’s love. Many of them had been told all their life that they didn’t belong, that they weren’t righteous enough to please God, but Jesus welcomed them. It was obvious watching Jesus that God was doing something special. The power in his words, the warmth of his welcome and the strength of his healing set him apart.
At the same time, he didn’t fit the mold of a holy man. He colored outside the lines of social boundaries and religious tradition. He criticized the religious leaders and challenged the comfortable. Some people, especially powerful people, thought Jesus might be dangerous, that he was leading people away from God. They also worried that his radical teachings could upset the delicate balance with the Roman Empire that allowed Jewish people freedom of worship.
Finally, the religious leaders got fed up with Jesus and the challenge he represented to their authority. They found one of his closest followers to lead them to his hideout away from the adoring eyes of the crowd. They arrested him, condemned him of blasphemy for saying he was God’s son and they handed him over to the imperial governor of Jerusalem, Pontius Pilate.
After some convincing and a staged demonstration calling for Jesus to be crucified, Pilate agreed. Jesus was whipped and beaten and mocked. Then he was led up a hill outside the city and nailed to a cross. That afternoon he died a horrible death, was buried in a tomb carved into a rock and the tomb was sealed with a huge rock guarded by soldiers.
Even before his death Jesus’ followers had run away and hidden. In Matthew’s account none of his followers are there when he dies except for three women and a man named Joseph we never hear anything else about. The women went right up to the tomb on that Friday afternoon to see where he was buried so they could bring spices and ointments on Sunday morning to do one last kindness for Jesus.
Everything seemed finished. Hope had died; fear had won; and nobody knew who else might be arrested.
But God wasn’t finished yet.
Sometime early that Sunday morning Jesus rose from the dead. He left that stone tomb and went free. In that moment everything changed forever. Death didn’t win. Fear didn’t have the last word. The people who seemed to have all the power didn’t get to make the rules.
Mary and Mary came to the tomb that morning out of gentle, courageous love for Jesus. They wanted to do one last thing for their Lord and teacher. Instead an earthquake and an angel met them at the tomb. The angel told them not to be afraid. He told them Jesus had risen from the dead and would meet the disciples in Galilee. Instead of bringing care to soften death the women left the tomb with a powerful message of new life to share with the other disciples.
There was still plenty to be afraid of. The Roman Empire and the religious leaders were still powerful. Death was still scary. The future was still uncertain. The passage says that the women left with fear and great joy. On the way down that hillside they met Jesus himself, alive and so full of love. He sent them out with the same message as the angel, sent them to tell the other disciples the good news that he had risen from the dead.
On that Easter morning love proved stronger than hatred; life proved stronger than death and mission proved stronger than fear. The women proclaimed Christ’s resurrection bravely to the other disciples and, after seeing the risen Christ and being filled with the Holy Spirit’s power, the disciples proclaimed the good news of God’s love in Jesus to others.
From there the message about Jesus continued to spread. The disciples had been scattered by fear, but now they were renewed by hope. They shared the message of God’s powerful love and endless mercy with everyone who would listen.
Like Jesus himself, the message about Jesus broke boundaries and caused all kinds of trouble for the religious leaders. In our passage from Acts, Peter is sharing the good news of God’s forgiveness with people who weren’t Jewish, which was a powerful taboo in Judaism at the time. Peter says Jesus (not us and not self-righteous religious people) will judge the world, that everyone who trusts Jesus is accepted, that the limits we thought were important are not important for God.
There was still plenty to be scared of, but the disciples didn’t let that get in their way. They could have been scared of the leaders who put them in jail and beat them. They could have been scared of the mobs that threatened them or the government that sometimes killed them. They could have been scared of breaking with tradition or upsetting the elders of their faith. They could have been scared of a lot of things and sometimes they probably were.
But more important than their fear, the disciples had the promise of the risen Christ. Jesus said, “Do not be afraid.” He said, “I am with you always.” Death couldn’t hold Jesus down, and it couldn’t keep his love from reaching out to new people. Christ’s resurrection didn’t just mean new life for him; it also meant new life for the disciples and for the whole world.
The power of the resurrection meant the disciples knew death wouldn’t have the last word for them either. They knew the message of God’s love for everyone needed to be shared with others. They knew that even if all the evidence said the odds were stacked against them, God’s power would get them through.
The story has changed a lot since then, but still much is the same. The message about Jesus has spread around the world. At the same time, there are still so many people who don’t know that God loves them. Even some people who grew up in the church don’t really know that God loves them. Many people grew up with the idea that if they had questions about their faith it meant they weren’t right with God. Others grew up hearing that there was something wrong with them that meant God would reject them. Tragically, many people associate the church of Jesus Christ with judgment and intolerance.
Human intolerance and judgment is what nailed Jesus to the cross. Fear of a different vision of God’s kingdom led Jesus to that deadly hill. But Sunday morning proves that none of that hateful, fearful, narrow-minded garbage can stand up to the tenacious persistence of God’s love in Jesus. Christ came, lived, died and rose because he loves us. Nothing can separate us from that amazing love.
So even though the landscape and customs and culture have changed, our calling is pretty much the same. Jesus, risen and glorious with love calls us and sends us out in mission for others. Jesus speaks strong words of healing: “Do not be afraid” “I am going ahead of you.” Like Peter, like the women at the tomb, Jesus sends us out to tell others that God loves them, that things won’t always be like they are now, that love will have the last word. More importantly, Jesus sends us out to show others that God loves them through our actions.
Jesus died and rose again for love, to free us from sin and judgment, to breathe new life into a tired world. We are Jesus’ body, Jesus’ risen and powerful body. Jesus sends us to share, to live a message of love. The resurrection sets us free from whatever tomb we might be trapped in to new lives of love and service. Christ is risen and we rise with him. The stone is rolled away; we are free. Do not be afraid; he is going ahead of us.