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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Easter Fear

The women who followed Jesus came to his tomb after the crucifixion.  They were completely buried in grief.  They had absolutely no expectation of seeing Jesus alive  So, the appearance of the angel made them "terrified" (Lk. 24:5).  The Greek word is 'emphobon,' a derivative of the Greek word that is the root of the English Phobia.  

The word is used almost exclusively in the New Testament by Luke (who wrote the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts).  The one place where use by another New Testament author is noted by the Walter Bauer Greek-English Lexicon (1979 revised edition) is Revelation 11:13.  There God exacts judgment (represented by an earthquake) so severe, thousands die and the capital city of the empire is thrust into panic-stricken fear.  It is the type of terror people felt during the terrorist attack of 9-11, 2001.  In Revelation 11, 'emphobon' connotes absolute horror.

Luke's uses of the term are in circumstances of the scale of a cataclysmic judgment.  His uses likely involved subtle moderation of the meaning.  He wasn't depicting something like the Red Sea splitting wide open or a great ocean liner like the Titanic going down.  Still, he chose a word that elicits the sense of great fear.  This is not so much reverent fear; it is terror and shock.

The women stumbled their way to the grave with immeasurable grief clouding their vision.  All was gray until the brilliant colors of heaven ripped through the fog with the appearance of the angels.  

The same word, 'emphobon' describes the fear that washed over the disciples later on.   But they weren't encountering angels.  They were talking in a group when suddenly, the risen Jesus was among them (24:36).  He said, "Peace be with you," but they were terrified.  His inviting love drew them past their fears and to him.  They returned to Jerusalem with great joy (24:52).  Their joy was such that no persecution from Greek, Roman, or other force could hurt them at all.  The resurrection was that scary and then it was that empowering.

 I worry that Christians have lost both the fear and the joy.  Resurrection happened so long ago and we find ourselves so comfortable in the world, that we sing heartily on Easter Sunday, but we don't live the reality we sang once Easter Monday arrives.  I sincerely believe each who would dare call himself or herself a Christ follower needs to seek him earnestly and persistently until He will be seen in fresh ways and heard in louder voices.

This diligent seeking of an encounter with the risen Christ must be accompanied by an uncomfortable honesty.  We have to be absolutely conscious and true about who we are - especially about our sins and how they corrupt the goodness of God's creation.  If we do that, the moment with God will come.  It will be as unexpected as the resurrection was for the women at the empty tomb.  When we are surprised as we will be, then we will be horrified by God's holiness shining next to our sinfulness.  We will be revealed and it won't be pretty.

We need that moment of fear.  Only when we are that aware of who we are can we then receive Jesus' gracious invitation to enter into His peace.  Moving from fear to peace, we will be filled with the resurrection power that changed the first disciples from hiding cowards into bold apostles.  When we enter that resurrection peace of Jesus, nothing in the world around us will appeal to us in any way.  

The first Christ followers were threatened with arrest, floggings, excommunication, and execution.  American Christ followers in the 21st century are lulled by materialism and deceived by patriotism.  When we are filled with the resurrection, the truth and reality of it, we will see the materialism around us for what it is: an illusion of happiness.  We will love our country but also understand what it is: a temporary thing destined to pass away.  We will know that which never dies, Jesus and all who are in Him.  

To fully "get Easter" and to live as Easter people, we need that moment of fear that then leads into the peace Jesus gives.  We all need it and when we have it, we live differently, never to go back to who we were.

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