When I was younger and living on the farm with my family of origin, picking rocks was one of my least favourite tasks on the farm. Back then, the way that we picked rocks is by taking a tractor with a front-end loader out to the field. One person would drive the tractor while 2 or 3 others would walk and pick up rocks and throw them in the bucket. When the bucket was full, the pickers would rest while the person driving the tractor went and dumped the bucket on a rock pile. For some reason, it was often a hot and windy day when we picked rocks, so the dust would fall off the rocks, swirl around and get in your eyes as you picked the rocks and threw them into the bucket.
But there was a reason why we picked rocks on the farm and this reason was that rocks could cause a lot of damage. We would use a machine called a swather to cut the crop and lay it in windrows to dry. There were cutter bars on those swathers and rocks would break the knives on those cutter bars so we would lose valuable time as we stopped in the middle of harvest to repair the broken knives. But the worse thing that could happen would be for a rock to get into one of our combines. Combines were the most expensive machine on the farm and if a rock every got inside a combine when we were picking up the swaths it could cause thousands of dollars of damage. But what was even worse was that the combine would out of commission for days or even weeks until repairs could be made. We only had a short season to gather our crop before winter came so the delay caused by damage from a rock could result in the loss of a year’s work. That’s why we picked those rocks.
We could think of our lives as being like a field and all of us have rocks in our field. These rocks come in many different sizes and shapes but all of them can cause damage at the core of our being. All of them can disrupt our lives and they all have the potential to destroy our lives and the heritage we leave behind for others.
Today I am inviting you to consider only one of these rocks, but it is perhaps the biggest and most destructive rock of all. It is the rock of fear.
Fear is a powerful rock because it shows up in so many different situations. And human beings are particularly susceptible to fear because we can imagine fear in the future and we can remember fear from the past. Animals only deal with fear when it rises up in the present, and then they either fight or flee, and then they rest after the danger passes. In contrast to animals, the life of a human being can be controlled by fears such as the fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of pain, or the fear of dying – just to name a few.
Maybe fear is a big rock in the field of your heart. If that is the case for you, I want you to know that my goal is not to cause you more fear. My goal is to point you to Jesus, who lived and died and rose from the dead to set you free from all your fears! Jesus came to give you a rich, full abundant life. So I pray that He will help you to have a few moments of insane courage to face your fears in the safety of His infinite and unconditional love for you.
To see how Jesus deals with the rocks of fear in our lives, the Bible passage that we are looking at on this Easter Sunday is found in Mark, chapter 16, starting with verse 1. And very quickly we encounter a large rock. Back in first century Judah, the dead were washed, wrapped in linen, placed in tombs carved out of rock. The Jews did not embalm their dead but they would wrap spices in the linen cloth and anoint the body with perfume as an act of love and devotion for the one who died. After a year, the tomb would be re-opened and the bones, which would be all that was left after a hot, Middle Eastern summer, would be placed in a bone box and inserted into a niche carved in the wall of the tomb. The bone boxes of several family members could be stored in the same tomb.
The entrance to the tomb would be sealed with a wheel-shaped rock that rolled in a channel carved in front of the tomb. With tomb rocks, size mattered. A poor family could only afford a small rock, while wealthy families usually had large, heavy rocks carved to seal off their tomb entrances.
Jesus was poor, without even a bed of His own on which to lay His head. But after His horrific death on the cross, Joseph of Arimathea, a wealthy follower of Jesus, went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ bod. Joseph took a great risk in doing so, because the bodies of executed criminals belonged to the Roman government. Pilate agreed to Joseph’s request and Joseph not only saved Jesus’ body from the indignity of being thrown on the Jerusalem garbage dump, he and Nicodemus also bought about 75 lbs of myrrh and aloes (John 19:39) and lovingly wrapped them around their friend and Saviour. Then the two men rolled the large, heavy stone down to its track and the entrance to the tomb was sealed. That was Friday evening.
Now it was early Sunday morning and Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome were in a hurry. They had bought more perfumes and ointments when the shops opened up after the Sabbath was over at sundown on Saturday. They wanted to get to the tomb as soon as they could to anoint Jesus’ body with their sweet-smelling gifts of love before decay made the task impossible.
But then they thought of the rock. They asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?” (v. 3)
Here’s the thing about our fears: They can be barriers between you and the ones you love. When our fears are in the driver’s seat of our lives they can drive us to do things that hurt the people we love, or they can put on the brakes and stop us from taking the risk of opening ourselves up more to the people around us.
The women need not have worried for God’s love had rolled the rock away. You see, God’s perfect love drives out fear (1 John 4:18). For us, there is no fear of punishment, for Jesus has taken all of the punishment for all our faults and failures upon Himself. There is no fear of death because Jesus has defeated death for us. There is no fear of rejection, because our Father in heaven unconditionally accepts us. There is no fear of loneliness for Jesus has promised us that He will always be with us. There is no fear of the unknown future because we know the God who holds the future, and we know that He loves us and only wants what is best for us. There is no fear of pain because we know that we have a Saviour who suffers with us through our pain and, because of what Jesus has done and will do for us, we know that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. (Rom. 8:18). God’s love rolled the big stone away from the entrance of that tomb so we could look in and see what Jesus has done for us to defeat our fear.
Now you might be saying to yourself, “Those are nice sounding words, but I believe in Jesus and I still have fears.” And if that is what you are thinking, to you I say, “I agree. I also still have fears. Lots of them.” But there is a difference between feeling a fear and being controlled by a fear. And the reason why our fears have so much power over us is because we believe that they will destroy us.
In her book, Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway, Susan Jeffers writes that underneath all of our other fears is one great big fear that says:
If X happens, I will not be able to handle it.
Because we don’t believe that we will make it through such an event, we do everything in our power to prevent it from happening, and so our fears control us. I realized years ago when I thought about my fears, one of my great big fears was that I could do everything within my power, and yet it was still possible that Susan, my wife, could fall out of love with me and leave me. Now Susan was giving me no reason to fear such a fear. But the big rock of fear in my heart was driving me to be more controlling in our relationship which would make her leaving me more likely to happen.
Only when I was honestly able, with God’s help, to say to myself that, if such a thing did happen, I know that Jesus would somehow get me through that, only then did my great big fear stop controlling me. It was still there, but it was no longer driving the bus of my life. In other words, the remedy to our great big fears is faith.
So what is your great big fear? What is the fear that lies underneath of all of your other fears? Do you fear death, so you do all in your power to put if off? Do you fear loneliness, so you cling incessantly to anyone who comes near you? Do you fear rejection, so you do all you can to please the people around you?
Take courage from Jesus’ resurrection, and with His help identify the Great Big Fears in your life. And then let Him help you to see that He will carry you through whatever situation you fear.
As we continue following the women to the tomb, we see that there is an ironic twist. The history-altering event designed to drive away all human fear ends up causing more. As the women got closer to the tomb, they saw that the stone had been rolled away.
“As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.” “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see Him, just as He told you.’
Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.” (v. 5-8)
When Jesus rolls away the big fears that have been driving and destroying our lives, it is a fundamental change that can truly scare us. It seems so new and foreign that it can actually feel unsafe to live without fear. But that is exactly how Jesus is inviting you to live as He says, “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in me.” (John 14:1 NKJV) Jesus is inviting you to live in freedom, and though that can be scary, I encourage you to ask Jesus to give you the courage to do it.
You might think that this freedom from fear may work for others, but not for you. I want to tell you that there is no one who is beyond God’s fear-conquering love. When his fears drove Peter to deny that he even knew Jesus three times in Jesus’ time of greatest need, human logic says a proper response to such betrayal would be banishment.
But thankfully God’s logic doesn’t work like ours. God’s love pursues Peter and he alone is given special mention by the angel in white. It’s as if the angel is saying, “Make sure you tell Peter, I want Peter to know that Jesus has risen and there is nothing to fear. Make sure that Peter knows this.”
Dear friends, maybe your fears have driven you to do things which you deeply regret and you feel far from God. I want you to know that Jesus has risen from the dead. There is nothing to fear. You can come home to God and He will welcome you with open arms. The stone has been rolled away.
(This message was shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church in Langley BC on Easter Sunday, April 1, 2018. It is based on Mark 16:1-8.)