Facing Our Fears in the Tomb Experiences

Title: Facing Our Fears in the Tomb Experiences

Bible Book: Matthew 28 : 1-10

Author: David E. Owen

Subject: Death; Resurrection; Easter



This morning, our text is found in Matthew 28 and our subject is Facing Our Fears In The Tomb Experiences.

Warren Wiersbe reminds us that at the beginning of this chapter…

The women who had lingered at the cross came early to the tomb, bringing spices that they might anoint His body. They thought He was dead. In fact, they wondered how they would move the huge stone that blocked the entrance to the tomb. … (But) Two angels had appeared (Luke 24:4) and one of them had rolled the stone away from the door. Of course, the soldiers on duty were greatly frightened by this sudden demonstration of supernatural power. The stone was not rolled away to permit Jesus to come out for He had already left the tomb. It was rolled back so that the people could see for themselves that the tomb was empty. One of the angels spoke to the women and calmed their fears. “He is not here! Come, and see!” Keep in mind that these women, as well as the disciples, did not expect Jesus to be alive.

A graveyard can be a scary place to be. I’m reminded of a little story that I heard about…

A young man who took a shortcut home one night. He went through a cemetery. He fell into an open grave. He tried to get out but couldn’t. He yelled and screamed but it was to no avail. There was no one around to hear him. He finally came to the conclusion that he needed to wait until the morning so he settled in for the night. He went to sleep.

Later that evening another person was taking a shortcut through the cemetery. He too fell in the open grave. He started to claw and scratch. He shouted as loud as he could but it was to no avail. Suddenly the first man who had fallen into the grave woke up and in the darkness tapped the man who was scratching and clawing and said, “You can’t get out of here.” You know what? He did!

The tomb, where Jesus had been, became a very alarming place, first for a group of fearful soldiers and then for a group of faithful saints, in the early darkness of that Sunday morning. As we look at this text…

I. We See The Situation That Brought Hugeness To Their Fear

(Matthew 28:1–5)

A. The Watchers (These Sinful Guards) Were Affected By A Scary Situation

(Matthew 28:2-4) And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it. {3} His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow: {4} And for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men.

keepers – Greek 5083. tereo, tay-reh'-o; from teros (a watch; perh. akin to G2334); to guard (from loss or injury, prop. by keeping the eye upon; and thus differing from G5442, which is prop. to prevent escaping; and from G2892, which implies a fortress or full military lines of apparatus), i.e. to note (a prophecy; fig. to fulfil a command); by impl. to detain (in custody; fig. to maintain); by extens. to withhold (for personal ends; fig. to keep unmarried):--hold fast, keep (-er), (ob-, pre-, re) serve, watch.

shake – Greek 4579. seio, si'-o; appar. a prim. verb; to rock (vibrate, prop. sideways or to and fro), i.e. (gen.) to agitate (in any direction; cause to tremble); fig. to throw into a tremor (of fear or concern):--move, quake, shake. (The word “earthquake” in verse 2 is ‘seismos.’)

Adam Clarke said that his countenance being “like lightning” suggests that there were “Coruscations (flashes) of glory continually flaming from his face.”

Albert Barnes said…

In our language the word “countenance” refers to the “face only”; in the original it refers to his “whole person.” His “general aspect, or the appearance of the angel himself,” was (like lightning).

Matthew Henry said of the angel…

The whiteness of his raiment was an emblem not only of purity, but of joy and triumph. When Christ died, the court of heaven went into keep mourning, signified by the darkening of the sun; but when he arose, they again put on the garments of praise.

John MacArthur wrote…

This earthquake had occurred when an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, causing the earth around the grave to tremble violently. The angel had come to open the secured and sealed grave, and when he arrived he rolled away the stone and sat upon it. Although it had probably taken several strong men some time to put the stone in place, the angel removed it in an instant.

The angel did not move the stone in order to let Jesus out of the tomb, as many Easter stories and paintings suggest. If Jesus had the power to raise Himself from the dead, which He did (John 10:18), He certainly had the relatively minor power required to escape a sealed grave. As He demonstrated during several post resurrection appearances, just as He was no longer bound by death, He was no longer bound by the limitations of the physical world or of time (see Luke 24:31; John 20:26). In His glorified form He could escape a closed grave just as easily as He could enter a closed room. In comparing the gospel accounts, it becomes clear that Jesus had already left the tomb when the stone was rolled away. The angel moved the stone not to let Jesus out but to let the women and the apostles in.

… The guards were so awestruck that at first they shook for fear of him. Shook translates a Greek term that has the same root as “earthquake” in verse 2, indicating that the soldiers experienced personal earthquakes of both mind and body. But after a brief moment of shaking, they then became like dead men, paralyzed with fear. The idea seems to be that they not only became rigid but unconscious, completely traumatized by what they saw.

We learn in the later verses that the “watch,” or the guards were bribed with ‘hush money’ to keep this account to themselves…

(Matthew 28:11-12) Now when they were going, behold, some of the watch came into the city, and showed unto the chief priests all the things that were done. {12} And when they were assembled with the elders, and had taken counsel, they gave large money unto the soldiers,

(Matthew 28:15) So they took the money, and did as they were taught: and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day.

There is still fear manifested in the hearts of lost men when they realize that there is more to this Jesus than they had thought. When people realize what Shakespeare’s Hamlet said, that “There are more things in heaven and earth … than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” When the issues of life and death exceed their understanding, it causes a person to be afraid. And if their fear brings them to Christ, then it is not a bad thing.

B. The Women (This Saintly Group) Were Affected By A Sorrowful Situation

(Matthew 28:1) In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre.

(Matthew 28:5) And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified.

Barnes said…

[There was a great earthquake] Rather there “had been.” It does not mean that this was while (the women) were there, or while they were going, but that there “had been” so violent a commotion as to remove the stone. The word rendered here as “earthquake” does not of necessity mean that the convulsion extended to the earth, but only that there had been such a concussion as to remove the stone.

The Bible tells us here that Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” had come to see the sepulcher. Barnes said…

The “other Mary” was not the mother of Jesus, but the mother of James and Joses (Mark). Mark says that “Salome” attended them. Salome was the wife of Zebedee, and the mother of James and John. From Luke (Luke 24:10) it appears that Joanna, wife of Chusa, Herod’s steward (see Luke 8:3), was with them. These four women, Mark says (Mark 16:1), having bought sweet spices, came to anoint him.

MacArthur writes…

From John’s gospel it seems that Mary Magdalene apparently left the garden as soon as she “saw the stone already taken away from the tomb” (John 20:1). Before the angel appeared, “she ran and came to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him’” (John 20:2). Obviously she had missed the angel’s announcement of Jesus’ resurrection. She was so overwrought at discovering the tomb empty that she ran frantically to the two most prominent disciples, Peter and John, to tell them what she thought was terrible news. … Meanwhile the angel had manifested himself to those who were near the tomb, and his appearance was like lightning. … The women were also frightened, but, unlike the soldiers, they received comfort from God’s messenger. Aware of their fright, the angel answered and said to the women, “Do not be afraid.” Perhaps a better translation than answered would be “explained,” because the women, too terrified to speak, had not asked a question.

(Matthew 28:5) And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified.

The angel seems to connect the fear of the women, not to his radiant appearance, but to the fact that they were seeking a crucified corpse. There is fear associated with the death experiences in our lives. When dreams die, it causes us to be fearful and apprehensive. The same is true when marriages seem to die, when a job situation dies, or when you find yourself mourning the high hopes that you had for your child or the confidence that you had in a friend. Sorrow brings apprehension into our hearts. But though we follow all these things to the graveyard, all is not lost…

II. We See The Sermon That Brought Hope To Their Fear

(Matthew 28:5–7)

A. This Was Declared To Be A Resurrection Message

(Matthew 28:5-6) And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. {6} He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.

risen – Greek 1453. egeiro, eg-i'-ro; prob. akin to the base of G58 (through the idea of collecting one's faculties); to waken (trans. or intrans.), i.e. rouse (lit. from sleep, from sitting or lying, from disease, from death; or fig. from obscurity, inactivity, ruins, nonexistence):--awake, lift (up), raise (again, up), rear up, (a-) rise (again, up), stand, take up.

The Pulpit Commentary says…

Those who seek Jesus crucified will find him risen. “He is risen!” This is joyful news, not only to the women, but to all disciples of Christ in every age. The risen Christ is our consolation.

Matthew Henry said it well when he said…

To be told He is not here, would have been no welcome news to those who sought him, if it had not been added, He is risen.

Adam Clarke wrote…

[Come, see the place] The tomb in which our Lord was laid was no doubt like the rest of the Jewish burying places, a receptacle for the several dead of a whole family, divided into separate niches, where each had his place. Come and see the place-was tantamount to, Come and see the niche in which he was laid-it is now empty; nor was there any other body in the place, for the tomb was a new one, in which no man had ever been laid, John 19:41; so there could be no deception in the case.

MacArthur wrote…

Has risen translates a Greek aorist passive and can also be rendered, “has been raised.” Jesus Himself had power to give up His life and to take it up again (John 10:18). But Scripture makes clear that He also was raised by the power of the Father (Romans 6:4; Galatians 1:1; 1 Peter 1:3) and of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:11). The entire Trinity participated in the resurrection of Jesus.

The angel gently reminded the women that Jesus’ resurrection should not surprise them, because it happened just as He said. Luke reports that they then “remembered His words” (24:8).

Next the angel invited the women to come, see the place where He was lying. At this point the women went into the tomb and observed that it was indeed empty. The angel joined them in the tomb and reiterated the same basic message, saying, “Do not be amazed; you are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who has been crucified. He has risen; He is not here; behold, here is the place where they laid Him” (Mark 16:6). Perhaps the message was repeated because the women found it so hard to believe, despite the fact that they now remembered Jesus’ predictions that He would rise on the third day.

The angel told them to “Come, see.” He basically said, “Come here and let me show you.”

B. This Was Designed To Be A Repeated Message

(Matthew 28:7) And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead; and, behold, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him: lo, I have told you.

Matthew Henry wrote…

The disciples of Christ must first be told the news; not, Go, tell the chief priests and the Pharisees, that they may be confounded; but, Tell the disciples, that they may be comforted. God anticipates the joy of his friends more than the shame of his enemies. … Tell them, that they may encourage themselves under their present sorrows and dispersions. It was a dismal time with them, between grief and fear; what a cordial would this be to them now, to hear, their Master is risen!

Notice the urgency in the word “quickly”…

quickly – Greek 5035. tachu, takh-oo'; neut. sing. of G5036 (as adv.); shortly, i.e. without delay, soon, or (by surprise) suddenly, or (by impl. of ease) readily:--lightly, quickly.

tell – Greek 2036. epo, ep'-o; a prim. verb (used only in the def. past tense); to speak or say (by word or writing). This word is also translated in the New Testament as “answer, bid, bring word, call, command, grant, say (on), speak, tell.”

The Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary paraphrases the statement…

Lo, I have told you. (Saying) Behold, ye have this word from the world of light!

III. We See The Savior That Brought Happiness To Their Fear

(Matthew 28:7–10)

A. Notice How The Prospect Of Jesus Brings Gladness

(Matthew 28:7-8) And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead; and, behold, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him: lo, I have told you. {8} And they departed quickly from the sepulchre with fear and great joy; and did run to bring his disciples word.

fear – Greek 5401. phobos, fob'-os; alarm or fright:--be afraid, + exceedingly, fear, terror.

‎A. T. Robertson said…

They had the greatest piece of news that it was possible to have. Mark calls it fear and ecstasy. Anything seemed possible now. Mark even says that at first they told no one anything for they were afraid (Mark 16:8).

The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament says of the word “fear” (NT:5401)…

What the women fear is not the resurrection itself but the empty tomb and the strange message of the angel. Matthew 28:8 adds the element of joy to the fear, and Luke 24:22 refers only to astonishment and joy.

We are told that they went with “fear,” but we are also told that they went with “great joy.” The Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary says, “How natural this combination of feelings!”

great – Greek 3173. megas, meg'-as [includ. the prol. forms, fem. megale, plur. megaloi, etc.; comp. also G3176, G3187]; big (lit. or fig., in a very wide application):--(+ fear) exceedingly, great (-est), high, large, loud, mighty, + (be) sore (afraid), strong, X to years.

joy – Greek 5479. chara, khar-ah'; from G5463; cheerfulness, i.e. calm delight:--gladness, X greatly, (X be exceeding) joy (-ful, -fully, -fulness, -ous).

The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament says that this word “joy” (NT:5479) is used…

As a phenomenon, a direct feeling or better self-perception, as self-being in self-transport, joy is uniform, and so are its manifestations even to tears of joy. It is everywhere a culmination of existence: “Joy, beauteous spark divine.” It strains beyond itself.

To know that we will see Him one day brings gladness to our hearts as well!

B. Notice How The Presence Of Jesus Brings Gladness

(Matthew 28:9-10) And as they went to tell his disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, All hail. And they came and held him by the feet, and worshipped him. {10} Then said Jesus unto them, Be not afraid: go tell my brethren that they go into Galilee, and there shall they see me.

Albert Barnes said of the words “All Hail”…

This is a term of salutation. The word ALL has been supplied by the translators. It is not in the original. The meaning of the word “hail,” here, is rejoice; a term of salutation connected with the idea of joy at His resurrection, and at meeting them again.

The Pulpit Commentary says…

Behold, Jesus met them, saying, All hail! (Chairete): literally, Rejoice ye! This … salutation … came with peculiar significance on their lately sorrow-stricken hearts. So He had said to His apostles, “Your sorrow shall be turned into joy” (John 16:20), and now He made good His word.

(Matthew 28:9) And as they went to tell his disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, All hail. And they came and held him by the feet, and worshipped him.

The Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary said of the fact that “they came and held Him by the feet,” … “How truly womanly!” But it is more to be identified with worship than with womanhood.

worshipped – Greek 4352. proskuneo, pros-koo-neh'-o; from G4314 and a prob. der. of G2965 (mean. to kiss, like a dog licking his master's hand); to fawn or crouch to, i.e. (lit. or fig.) prostrate oneself in homage (do reverence to, adore):--worship.

The Pulpit Commentary says…

As soon as they saw him, they went to him with glad surprise, and yet with such awe, that they could only fall down before him and tenderly clasp his feet. … These women clung to Christ with something higher than natural, earthly affection, acknowledging his super-humanity, and … they remained at his feet in profound adoration.

Barnes says they…

[Held him by the feet] Or threw themselves prostrate before him. This was the usual posture of supplication.

He said that they should not be alarmed or frightened. He comforted them and gave them courage. He does the same for us as we go out with His message. He said, “Be not afraid.”

afraid – Greek 5399. phobeo, fob-eh'-o; from G5401; to frighten, i.e. (pass.) to be alarmed; by anal. to be in awe of, i.e. revere:--be (+ sore) afraid, fear (exceedingly), reverence.

In the presence of the resurrected Christ, we experience the reality of His worship and the reassurance of His word. This helps to dissipate our real fear of circumstances, and it helps to develop our reverential fear of Christ.


There was an article from “The Associated Press” published on April 19, 2007 about a situation that happened in Highlands, NC. The article said…

An elderly woman who broke her hip when she fell into an open grave as she tried to place flowers on a friend’s casket is suing the town and the funeral home.

A federal judge recently allowed Marian May’s case to proceed. In court documents, she claims the site was not safe for the June 2004 service, arguing that workers neither dug the grave to the proper size nor covered the opening with plywood. She also said people weren’t warned of the danger.

“It is not much fun being down there, where it’s nice and black, and you are looking up and I am saying ‘Jean, I don’t want to go with you,”’ May said of her late friend Jean Murphy Henderson.

Her husband, 92-year-old William May, claims the accident has cost him the affection of his wife. May wouldn’t reveal her age but said she wasn’t as old as her husband. The couple are suing for more than $75,000.

A lawyer representing Highlands said the town isn’t responsible for making the grave site safe for the service. In court papers, Bryant Funeral Home also denied responsibility and said workers had warned May to stay away from the graveside.

None of us could sue Almighty God. But we certainly want to protest when God brings us to the places of sorrow and the fearful places in life. But be comforted by the fact that the risen Christ is still sharing this message with His followers: “Be not afraid”!


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