Christian Life Worship Center, Athens, Georgia
July 24, 2016
Callie C. Sorrow
“After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”
So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” –Matthew 28:1-10
Emily Eisenman, a college student from Athens, went to bed Monday evening, April 21, like any other night, having just gotten off the phone with her boyfriend Bart, she was a bit giddy. Within 24 hours they would be seeing one another after being apart for a while. As she laid her head down, she looked forward to receiving a text from Bart when she woke up that he was on the airplane at the Brussels Airport and on his way to see her. Unfortunately, the excitement soon turned to fear.
Emily woke up in the middle of the night to check her phone and instead of a message from Bart there was one from his mother. She told Emily that there had been a terrorist attack at the airport in Brussels and they hadn’t heard from Bart at all and wondered if she had. Emily quickly darted from her bed, woke her family, turned on the news, and checked to see if Bart’s plane had left. As the images of the demolished terminal and panic flashed across her screen, Emily was struck with fear. It was if she was in the middle of a nightmare, but this nightmare had become her reality.
Paris. Brussels. Orlando. Bangladesh. Baton Rouge. Minneapolis. Dallas. Nice. Munich. Just a few of the locations left desolate by senseless acts of terror or the crippling loss of life within the past seven months. They each have left individuals like Emily, with their worlds completely shaken. Each of these attacks loom heavily upon their nations. All sense of control and security is lost. We are robbed of peace. Hope has disappeared. Fear is stricken deep into our core. In a world full of terror and darkness, in a time of confusion and chaos, in a culture of ongoing change and uncertainty, fear seems to await us at every turn. The unknown grips us. The darkness seems to reign. Perhaps now, more than at any other time in history, we know what it means to truly be afraid. In a world polluted by terrorism and fear it is easy to become discouraged and lose hope entirely.
As I have scrolled through my personal social media feeds the past few weeks, I am overwhelmed by the burden so many feel following these occurrences. It seems as if every conversation over coffee with friends or at meals with family shifts to these tragedies. Terror and confusion continuously bear down on the Jewel called Joy in an effort to extinguish her light. Many are left questioning, Where is God?
I am reminded of yet another time this question became prevalent in the lives of a desperate people. Let us rewind to a gruesome Friday afternoon when the entire globe was shaken to its core, where fear seemed to reign supreme, and place ourselves in the shoes of several of the hopeless witnesses. These horrific hours would later become the cradle of our faith.
It was truly a gruesome day. For three years, people had been placing their trust in one man who seemed to have all the answers. This small town carpenter had taken the world by storm as he traveled across the Palestinian countryside proclaiming a message of hope, freedom, and healing amidst a culture of desolation, captivity, and death. His message was contagious. His presence intoxicating. All who heard him were in awe of the authority with which he spoke, drawing some, deflecting others. The miracles he performed left crowds breathless. The love he gave offered life and identity. He fixed the problems no one else could. He was reversing the curses of long past. He brought hope where all hope had been lost. But all of that changed within the matter of a day. Terror took over as the One with whom their hopes rested was arrested in the middle of the night and brought to trial. He was bound like a murderer. The man who revived the widow’s son, who restored life to the synagogue leader’s daughter, who rescued Lazarus from death’s gates was being treated like one who intentionally took life, rather than one who restored it.
As the trial of deception shifted to the city center, the fear began to increase. Screams rang in the streets calling for the innocent blood of the Carpenter turned Prophet. In a cowardly move, the governor sentenced the Nazarene to be crucified. Once they reached the Praetorium the bloodshed truly began. He was stripped of his clothing and chained to a post. The soldiers, with faces distorted by the perverse pleasure they were about to enjoy due to the pain and punishment they were about to inflict, revealed their instrument of torture to the crowd: a tangled up mess of leather strips coated in broken glass, stone, and bone. Without warning a soldier brought the horrifying whip down upon the un-expecting Jesus. He buckled in agony as his skin was sliced open, as the torturer threw his own head back in laughter upon seeing his pain. The cracking of the whip, the deafening cries of agony, the sound of skin being ripped away, the mocking laughter of the soldiers rang in the ears of the onlookers. The smell of blood and exposed flesh, and the sight of the most loving and compassionate man to ever walk the planet becoming entirely mangled and distorted engraved themselves into the minds of His followers leaving behind a residue of fear and terror.
The reign of terror marched on as the mockery continued. The soldiers forced a twisted crown of rugged thorns upon his head, then beat it into his flesh. Blood poured from his brow as he shook in agony, never uttering a word. The soldiers then placed a heavy purple cloth made of wool upon his raw, exposed back. As the blood soaked through the wool, attaching itself to the raw wounds, the soldiers ripped it away, resulting in yet another cry of agony. Grabbing him from the ground, they forced him to the city streets where the heavy, wooden cross was thrust upon his back.
The splinters from the wooden beams pierced through his open skin. Rapidly losing strength, he could barely stand, let alone carry the cross. He continued to trip and to stumble repeatedly falling in the dust which also found its way into his wounds. Finally he reached the Place of the Skull and fell to the ground, breathless and exhausted. There was no strength left within Him, but the soldier, attempting to move Jesus into the position for crucifixion, kicked him in the stomach causing Him to vomit up blood. Once they finally positioned Him on the cross, his arms were tied to stabilize Him. The flash of sun off the top of the nail, the shadow of the hammer being raised, the horrific ringing of the two clashing together as they pierced Jesus’ hands and feet and the resulting cry struck fear deep into the core of the faithful few.
As Jesus was lifted into the air, the expectation of everyone reached its peak. Would he fight back in any way? Surely this was just a terrible nightmare and the bloodshed would soon come to an end. But He simply remained and took the torture. Instead of lashing out words of hate and anger, He cried out to the Father asking for forgiveness for those torturing and mocking Him. Though it was midday, a pitch black darkness came across the land. Fear seemed to be making its final attack.
In the most gut wrenching and painful cry yet, Jesus called, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” or “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” As the sins of all mankind fell upon him, he felt distance from His Father. Where there was once comfort and peace, distance alone remained. His source of strength had grown silent. He was bearing the shame, pain, agony, guilt, disgust, and sin of us all. The weight was crushing His spirit just as the wounds were crushing His body. He felt forsaken and forgotten as he bore the weight of the world. But still he endured. He did not give up. As his soul was in torment and he experienced extreme agony, the veil in the Temple separating man from God for generations was torn in two from top to bottom. Knowing it was time, he cried out “It is finished!” breathed his last breath, and died.
Had fear truly won? Had the Light truly been vanquished by the Darkness? There seemed no hope. All was lost.
The women who had witnessed the horror of the entire day watched in confusion, sorrow, and hopelessness, as the One whom they had grown to trust, worship, depend on and love was taken down from the cross, lifeless. Following Joseph of Arimathea to the tomb, they watched as he cleaned the body, wrapped it in linen cloths, placed the stone before the tomb, and left. Before leaving themselves, they stood opposite the tomb, stunned. As they replayed the horrific events of the day in their minds, only devastation and heart break remained. The Sabbath was soon approaching and for the first time all day they were forced to leave Him. As they walked away, leaving his lifeless corpse, the fear entirely set in. There seemed no other option but to fear what was still yet to come.
As the women endured the next days without Christ, fear remained with them. What was to happen next? As his followers were they too going to suffer as terribly as he did? Would the others who had devoted the last three years of their lives to Jesus, becoming like a family, remain together or would they disperse? Had the promises from the prophets of old about a Messiah who would deliver them from sin and death all been lost? What were they to do? Had fear truly won?
Just as the crucifixion left those women confused and devastated, the events of the past seven months leave us feeling the same way. We wonder, “Where has God gone?” Where will terror and fear strike next? Will there ever be peace? Does fear have the final say? A life without Christ is one marked by confusion, sorrow, loneliness, darkness, and fear. A life without Christ is one truly without hope. But thank God that fearful Friday was not the end.
Once the Sabbath reached its conclusion, the women woke early Sunday morning with the spices and perfumes they had prepared and departed for the tomb. As they walked in the early morning hours, hearts still heavy from the events the days before, longing to see the One they loved once more and offer a proper burial, they wondered how they would enter the tomb. The stone was extremely heavy, not to mention the wax seal placed around it to keep it in place and the battalion of soldiers assigned to guard the door to make sure no one stole the corpse. As they questioned all these things, the ground beneath them began to tremble. The trembling soon became a violent earthquake. The women fell to the ground due to the magnitude of the quake. A bright light burst forth from the horizon. A man dressed in a robe as bright as the sun with an appearance as shocking as lightning stood before the stone of the tomb. You could hear the rattling of armor as the soldiers shook in fear at the appearance of the angel, stunned they fell to the ground, faint and unable to move. Like a child throwing a pebble, the angel rolled away the massive stone with ease. He then hoisted himself atop the stone and sat staring at the women, now breathless, terrified, and in awe of what they had just seen. As they stood stunned, the angel began to speak, his voice was powerful like a storm, yet calming as a breeze: “Do not be afraid. I know why you are here. You are looking for Jesus who was crucified. But He is not here; He has risen! Just as He said He would. Come see for yourselves the place where he lay. But then go quickly and tell the rest of the disciples: “He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you to Galilee. There you will all see Him.”
At first they were frozen, processing what had been said. Then all at once it struck them. Turning to one another, they exchanged a glance as if to say “Could this be true? He is not dead! He is alive! Oh He is alive!” Leaving behind their jars of perfume and spices, they ran toward town still attempting to process all that happened, afraid, yet filled with joy! If what the angel said was true, if Jesus was really alive, all hope was not lost. The One they had placed their hope in was not defeated by darkness, but had indeed defeated the power of sin and darkness. If Jesus was truly alive, that meant they were no longer alone in this world. Their true companion whom they had grown to love, trust and looked to for healing, wisdom and freedom had not been demolished by the terror and fear of three days past. If He was truly alive, his love had not ended. His peace had not ended. His comfort had not ended. It was alive. He was alive!! They could have joy amidst all the uncertainty and the evil that was still present around them because Jesus could truly be alive! They had joy amidst the fear, yet there was still fear.
The women had only heard that Jesus was alive. They had not encountered him personally. For them the events of the days before were still engrained in their minds. This morning encounter gave them joy knowing perhaps the crucifixion was not the end, but they were still uncertain. What if they reached the rest of the disciples, told them all that happened, and Jesus never came? What if this was all just a dream and a mental escape from the trauma they experienced days before? Could this all be too good to be true?
Perhaps this morning you find yourself in the same position as these women, questioning the validity and the truth of all this. Would someone completely innocent be willing to go through extreme pain and torture to save the same people who were torturing him? Could someone truly love you enough to give Himself up for you and suffer the punishment that you were supposed to suffer? Is it possible that you can truly be free from the bondage of sin and disease and pain and death? Is it possible to have victory over addiction? Is it possible to have a clean start despite all the awful things you think you have done? Is it really possible for that missing family member to come back home? Is it possible for your loved ones who are battling severe illnesses to find healing? Is there really hope for that loved one after they die? Is there someone who genuinely, truly loves you and promises never to leave you even though everyone else has turned their backs on you and abandoned you? Is it really true that you are not alone? Can there be joy amidst the fear of this fallen world? You can hear the news of the Resurrected Jesus told, but the questions and the doubts will remain until you encounter Him for yourself.
As the women ran back to the city, their minds were flooded with emotions and questions, with confusion and expectation, with uncertainty and excitement, with fear and with joy at all they had seen and now heard. Their feet were racing almost as rapidly as their minds. But they were stopped in their tracks, as they beheld the most beautiful and wonderful sight they had seen in their entire lives. There in front of them, breathing, staring back at them with the eyes of love they had always known, arms stretched wide, was Jesus. He was alive!! As he greeted them the familiarity of the melody and might of His voice, overwhelmed their hearts and their minds and they fell at his feet clinging desperately, like a child to her father. They clung on in gratitude, out of desperation, for comfort and for safety. Out of love there they worshiped Him. He was truly alive!
In love, he reached down and comforted them: “Do not be afraid.” They had heard it once before but now they could believe it. He was there comforting them. His presence filled the void they had felt the past days. His warmth filled them where the coldness of the cruelty they had witnessed had crippled them. His voice silenced the echoes of the fear that had been tormenting them, just as it had silenced the waves. His love brought life where the fear had been slowly robbing it. He was alive and with them. He had won victory over sin for his Beloved. He defeated death by rising again. He defeated the darkness, by penetrating it with His light. There was no need for fear, because He had conquered it. And now they knew it, because they had encountered Him for themselves.
We too can be free from fear, but we must encounter Jesus ourselves. We cannot simply hear the news of His resurrection, we must encounter the resurrected Jesus first hand. At the nail-scarred feet of Jesus there is freedom from fear and the beginning of life. Just as the man who lived among the tombs found deliverance from the demons of his past at the feet of Jesus, so can we find deliverance from our pasts. Just as the Samaritan leper found healing of his incurable disease at the feet of Jesus, so can we find healing from our diseases. Just as Jairus, the synagogue leader, pleaded for the salvation of his family at the feet of Jesus, so can we plead on the behalf of our families. Just as Mary found wisdom at the feet of Jesus, so can we find the wisdom we need. Just as the woman with the issue of blood found her identity at the feet of Jesus, so can we find our identity in Him. Just as the sinful woman found forgiveness of her sins at the feet of Jesus, so can we be forgiven. Just as John fell before the Resurrected Jesus in the Book of Revelation, and Jesus declared his victory over hell and death so too we can fall before Him despite the terror and insanity that rages around us knowing our God is victorious! But first we must come and fall before the feet of Jesus, and surrender our lives to Him. We must confess our need for Him to forgive us and free us of our sins, and then He will encounter us and invade us with freedom from fear. Fear of sin. Fear of sickness. Fear of death. Fear of loneliness. Fear of the unknown. There is no need to fear, because He is alive! He has defeated fear!!
Remember Emily, fear completely rocked her world as she learned of the situation in Brussels and was clueless as to what may have happened to Bart. The more and more information she received about all that was going on there, the less and less hope there seemed. But as Emily was being interviewed by a news reporter there was something different about her. Yes, she was afraid for Bart and wanted him to be safe, but she had joy. Emily told the reporter, “I am holding on to the hope that God has a plan. I know that Bart’s soul is safe for eternity, and that’s what I am looking to and that is what I am hoping on.” This interview with Emily took place the Wednesday before Easter Sunday this year. Two days later on Good Friday, Emily released an update on Bart.
Listen to her words:
Today has been the worst day of my life, finding out from a phone call that the love of my life and a strong child of God was found among the dead of those involved in the terrorist attack in the Brussels airport. But today is also Good Friday, the day that my sweet Jesus suffered too by being crucified on the cross for this world that we live in. My precious Bart and Jesus have shared this day together. But as Sunday comes and I celebrate my sweet Jesus’ resurrection, I will see Bart again and in the Kingdom of God…
Amidst Emily’s fear she had joy, because she has encountered the Resurrected Jesus and she knows where her eternity lies and where that of her beloved Bart’s lies. She knows that God is still in control, that he has defeated evil and that he is in fact still alive, which brings joy amidst the fear. Do you have that same assurance this morning? If not, you have the opportunity to encounter the Resurrected Jesus. You can go beyond hearing the news of his resurrection to experiencing it firsthand. You can live life no longer captive to fear, but can have joy knowing fear has been defeated.
[Editor's Comment: When you read and experience the moving drama in Callie's sermon, you will certainly feel as I do the hope God has given us in work He is doing in the hearts and minds of Millennials. I am deeply moved by what Callie wrote in preparation to preach to us at Christian Life Worship Center in Athens, GA last Sunday, July 24, 2016. She delivered it with the anointing of the Holy Spirit and excellence.
It is my prayer that many people will read this sermon and share it with others who need hope and to come to know the risen living Lord Jesus Christ.
Callie Sorrow, a recent graduate from Emmanuel College, will carry the Gospel all over the world. Would you join me in prayer that God will continually guide her young life and that He will use Callie for His glory and honor.
I am so very proud of Callie. I am confident that her parents, Rick and Christy Beatty Sorrow, are grateful to God for giving them such a gifted and intelligent daughter whom God has called to preach. I want to thank Bishop Tim Lamb, superintendent of LifePoint Ministries (Georgia Conference) for inviting her to preach at our church.
Then, I am sure that Callie's grandparents, Dr. G. Earl and Nancy Beatty, and James and Rachel Sorrow are proud of Callie.
May I encourage you to forward this sermon on to friends, relatives, associates, and neighbors.]
Here is the manuscript of the Rev. Miss Callie Sorrow's sermon she preached at Christian Life Worship Center in Athens, GA on Sunday, July 24, 2016.]