I’m pretty sure I have an oversized amygdala.
The amygdala is that part of your brain that, among other things, controls fear.
It helps you decide if something is a threat, and if it is, it helps you respond quickly and get to safety. I’m convinced that my amygdala is huge, or at least is always paying attention. It’s like they were putting together people and they said, "Wait, that amygdala is the size of a grapefruit!" but it was too late and they sent me out into the world and here I am.
I grew up afraid of all kinds of things. I slept with a light on. I couldn’t watch scary movies. I definitely didn’t ride roller coasters. Then when I started going to church for the first time in high school, I became really ashamed of all of my fears. The Christian teaching seemed really clear. Fear meant unbelief. Fear was a sign of a weak faith. Ultimately, fear and faith could not coexist. I think the idea behind it is a good one. We don’t have anything we have to fear because of God. We don’t have to let fear dominate our lives anymore. But for someone who grew up afraid this idea that fear meant I didn’t have faith was really troubling for me as a young Christian. Even though I had decided to follow Jesus, I still found those fears creeping in. So then, for any of us that are afraid of something, what do you think?
Can fear and faith coexist?
There’s certainly plenty of fear to go around. Are you feeling some anxiety leading up to a medical procedure? Are you afraid of failure or afraid of public speaking or of being in a crowded room? Do you get nervous driving a car or flying in an airplane? Maybe you are afraid, deep down, that you’ll never be good enough, or that people only like you because of what you can do, not who you are. Are you afraid of what might happen in the future? Do you have a fear of change or a fear of aging? Do you have a fear of people not liking you? Then the big one, a fear of death? Are we really saying that if you are afraid of any of these things, that you don’t have faith, that you aren’t real Christians? Or that you are some secondary class of disciples that will never really get it right but it’s cute that you are trying?
I don’t think that’s true at all.
Fear and faith can absolutely coexist, together.
Let me show you why. Today we’ll be looking at our last passage in the gospel of Mark for this sermon series. We’re picking up in our story just after Jesus has died and his body has been laid in the tomb.
"There were also women looking on from a distance; among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. These used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee; and there were many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem. When evening had come, and since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.Then Pilate wondered if he were already dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he had been dead for some time. When he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the body to Joseph. Then Joseph bought a linen cloth, and taking down the body, wrapped it in the linen cloth, and laid it in a tomb that had been hewn out of the rock. He then rolled a stone against the door of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where the body was laid. When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?’ When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, ‘Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.’ So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. (Mark15:40 - 16:7)
Then if you are reading this in your Bible it will usually have a heading that says “the Shorter Ending of Mark” (we’ll explain what these endings mean in a second).
"And all that had been commanded them they told briefly to those around Peter. And afterwards Jesus himself sent out through them, from east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation." (Mark 16:8)
Then your Bible will have another heading that says “The Longer Ending of Mark” and it goes on to say:
"Now after he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. She went out and told those who had been with him, while they were mourning and weeping. But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it."(Mark 16:9-11)
This is the same powerful story about the women and the tomb and Jesus rising from the dead that we have in the other three gospels. In the others, the details are slightly different - in one the women were frightened but also filled with joy. In another Mary Magdalene finds the disciples and exclaims “I have seen the Lord!” All three point to the women leaving the tomb, and going out to tell people what had happened.
But here’s the interesting thing about Mark.
The earliest and most reliable manuscripts we have of the gospel of Mark don’t have any of that.The earliest manuscript we have of the gospel of Mark doesn’t end with this proclamation of the gospel by the women and the disciples. There is no rush to tell the disciples. No conversation with Peter. No overwhelming joy. The earliest manuscripts we have of the gospel of Mark end in verse 8:
“They went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”
Then Mark just stops there. After the whole story about Jesus’ life and resurrection, his teachings and miracles, it comes to an abrupt stop with the women running away in fear. That’s the end. This original ending of Mark is what I’d like us to really lean into today.
But first, a comment on those longer endings of Mark.
Most bibles will note these longer endings of Mark with brackets to show where the original manuscript seemed to end. There is a lot of scholarship to talk about all of this, including why Mark’s writing likely ended in verse 8, and where these longer endings came from. It’s more than we can do today, but the short version is we don’t need to throw them out entirely. Acknowledging that Mark likely ended in verse 8 doesn’t make the rest of these endings untrue. The longer endings with Jesus’ appearance and the testimonies would have come from the early Christian community. These stories line up with the witness of Matthew, Luke and John. Clearly it wasn’t the work of some rogue scribe adding fictitious editorial comments that didn’t come from the true gospel story that was circulating. It simply means the longer endings may not have come directly from Mark. If we take that to be true, Mark ended with “They went out and fled and said nothing to anyone because they were afraid.”
This is not the neat and tidy happy ending we were looking for, is it?
The women were afraid.
But of course they were afraid.
In the past few days leading up to that moment, they saw Jesus arrested and then drug off to trial. They saw his body nailed to a cross, slowly dying. He was the one who they had loved and followed and believed in. Then when they came, bleary eyed and weary with grief to the tomb to anoint his body, the huge stone they had been worried about was moved. And then they ran smack into a stranger dressed in a white robe sitting where the body should have been who tells them something that feels unbelievable.
Then they were afraid, and Mark leaves us there, in their fear and uncertainty, without the tidy ending of the other three gospels. So it’s tempting for us to keep reading to the later, longer ending fo Mark. But this shorter ending, in verse 8, is a part of the reason why I believe faith and fear can, in fact, coexist. The women were afraid. Mark is unequivocally clear about that.But then . . . we also have their story. The only people at the tomb that morning were the women, but now we have all the details about what happened there: the tomb being rolled away, the young man dressed in white, that first proclamation of the resurrection. We have the whole story that only these scared women witnessed. This means, even without Mark telling us they did go on to tell others Jesus had risen, we know what they must have done next. If the women had let their fear keep them from telling the story, we wouldn’t have it here. There might have been some other version where eventually the other disciples come looking for where the women had gone and stumbled upon the empty tomb on their own. But in Mark, we have this story of the women’s trip to the tomb and finding the man sitting there, and how they ran away. The only ones who could have shared this part of the story were the women. The women were afraid, but they were still faithful. Even in their fear, they told someone the story of what happened. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have it here, recorded for us, over 2000 years later. They even included their own fear in their testimony.
Faith and fear coexisted.
Faith didn’t eliminate their fear.
It transformed them into people who could act despite it.
This wasn’t the only time God worked through people who were afraid. When God called Moses to go out and speak to the people, Moses was afraid they wouldn’t believe him and that he would embarrass himself trying to speak. When Jesus called Peter to step out of the boat and onto the water to meet him, Peter was afraid and started to sink. I have to imagine that Noah was a little anxious as people ridiculed him while he built that huge boat. Esther had to have been terrified as she approached the king who could have her killed. Faith and fear can coexist, together.
In fact, Fear often accompanies the moments of our greatest acts of faith.
Moses was afraid, but he went out and led God’s people from slavery. Peter did sink into the water, but before that happened, he got out of the boat and took several steps. Everyone else just stayed in the boat. Noah built the boat. Esther approached the king and saved her people. The women at the tomb were afraid, but then they became the first people to tell the story of the resurrection of Jesus. Faith didn’t erase their fear, but it transformed them into people who could act in spite of it.
It can for you too.
You can be absolutely afraid, and still have faith in God. Even with your fear, you can do whatever it is you feel God is nudging you to do. You may just have to do it afraid. What is one thing you are afraid of, right now? What is a fear, in your life, that might be holding you back? What are you afraid of, and what is that fear keeping you from doing? It’s so easy to let fear keep us paralyzed. We start to believe that we can’t move forward until we deal with the fear first. Sometimes instead of feeling stuck, fear makes us run, like the women at the tomb, and we run as far as we can from the thing we don’t think we can face. We decide that once we are free of fear, then there will be room for faith, then we will be ready to follow God. But I’m not sure there is ever a time when we are completely free from fear, because we’re human. So what if you stopped waiting?
What if you stopped waiting for the fear to pass, or to have the time to deal with it, and instead moved forward, in spite it? Faith won’t always erase all of your fears, but your faith in God can transform you into someone who can act in spite of it.
You can do it, afraid.
2 Timothy 1: 7 says “for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.” The fear we have, that’s from us. It’s part of our humanity.
It will always be a part of us. But the faith God gives us, that spirit can transform us, so that you can be afraid, but still have God’s power and love and self-discipline.
Be like the women at the tomb.
But do it anyway.