March 31, 2013
God’s Great Surprise
I have been studying my Greek New Testament lately, and I stumbled on something very surprising. I discovered that the Greek word for sunrise is more accurately translated as afternoon.
You know what I like about Holy Week and Easter? We never get into arguments about the secularization of this week. No one worries about store greeters saying happy spring holiday rather than happy Easter. And how do you commercialize Easter, a holiday about life, death, and resurrection?
A very successful contractor had a longtime, loyal, employee. The contractor approached his employee one day and told him he wanted him to personally oversee the construction of a grand house. No expense would be spared on the house. It was to have the best of materials and would be a showcase. The employee began to think about his many years of service to his employer. I’ve helped to make him rich, and what do I have to show for it? I have worked for years and deserve more in return. The employee decided he would skimp on materials and pocket the savings. When it came to the electrical work, he used substandard electrical supplies, thinking to himself, who is going to know the difference? He used substandard plumbing supplies, used fewer roof trusses, and did not install hurricane clips. Everywhere he could, the employee cut corners and pocketed the money. When the home was finished, the contractor met his employee at the house. As they walked around the home the contractor praised the work of his employee. When the employee handed his employer the keys, the contractor handed them back and said, you have worked for me for many years, and have been a very loyal employee. You have been an integral part of my success. I wondered how I might repay you, and decided the best way is to give you this house.
Imagine the surprise of the employee!
One of the amazing parts of the resurrection stories is the surprise that is universal among the followers of Jesus. In spite of the fact that Jesus taught that he would rise again, no one seemed to expect it and upon hearing of the resurrection, his followers expressed a great deal of surprise.
One of the great attributes of God, I think, is that he is so full of surprises. One of the most interesting parts of the Gospels, to me, is the sense of surprise that serves as a constant undercurrent. I think we too often believe we have God all figured out. We know just what to expect of him, we know how he will act, and we know what he must think.
But we don’t. God is not always predictable. God does not always do the expected.
God, in Christ, certainly surprised people.
As Jesus taught, as he ministered, and as he dealt with people he so often surprised them. Jesus was not always what they expected. Jesus angered some because they were surprised at his freedom in associating with people. Jesus would step across social boundaries to eat with people he wasn’t supposed to even speak to, let alone break bread with them. He would touch people he wasn’t supposed to touch. He would love people he wasn’t supposed to love. He would stand up for people you weren’t supposed to defend.
We have our boundaries too, don’t we? We have lines we’re not supposed to cross either, don’t we? They come at an early age. Some people told me there were certain people with whom I shouldn’t associate.
Jesus broke all kinds of boundaries and barriers as he dealt with people, and he cared not what others thought, especially the religious leaders who were the ones who had so carefully laid out the boundaries and drew the lines that separated people.
Jesus surprised because he even loved those who put him to death. Jesus’ words father forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing (Luke 23:34) are some of the most amazing and powerful words ever spoken. Think of the individual or group of people who really disturb you. Pick those people who really get under your skin and imagine being able to speak and demonstrate love to them. There are people who long ago did something to hurt us, and though it’s been years ago we still bristle at the thought. Imagine loving them.
Jesus loved even those who crucified him. These were not people who just said something upsetting to him; these were not people who had a little problem with Jesus – these were the people who killed him. And he loved them.
If Jesus loved all, it is what he asks of us. Love is the most powerful and most wonderful force in our world, but it is also the most difficult and terrible force as well, because it asks the impossible of us, and that is to love those who not only love us, but even those who hate us.
It has been the bane of the church across the ages to fall into that same trap of drawing lines between people and to reinforce the lines already drawn by society.
One of the great surprises of God is to go against the grain of carefully constructed social structures and to offer his love to everyone. Everyone. That is one of the great, but challenging, parts of the gospel – the gospel doesn’t belong to us! The church is not the protector and dispenser of God’s love – God is!
The resurrection was a surprise to the followers of Jesus. They had certainly seen people crucified before. The Romans were unsparing in their use of that terrible method of execution. Crucifixion led to death and when you’re dead, you’re dead. But God surprised them. It was an unexpected, wonderful, glorious surprise.
The news shouldn’t have come as a surprise to the disciples, because Jesus had told them in very plain language he would rise again. But the nature of a surprise is that you can’t see it, even when it was right in front of you.
When I was younger, my two brothers, our father, and I were all motorcycle riders. My younger brother and I had one that was not much of a motorcycle, and we kept it running with duct tape and bailing wire. We really wanted a newer one. One fall, our dad rolled a motorcycle into his workshop. It was a really nice motorcycle, but it needed some repair to get it in top running condition; it had some issues.
We were really interested in it and he told us it belonged to someone he worked with, and he was going to work on it as a favor to his coworker. I was quite disappointed, because I had hoped it was my dad’s and that he would let us ride it. A number of times I would go out into his workshop and just sit on that motorcycle. I would put one hand on the throttle and one on the clutch and think about how great it would be to run it across our fields.
I watched with great interest the progress my dad made on that motorcycle. He painstakingly restored the paint until it looked brand new. He rebuilt the engine and cleaned and shined it until it gleamed. I was sorry to think about it leaving.
And then an interesting thing happened. Christmas came, and when we came down that morning my brother and I both had a motorcycle helmet under the tree. It didn’t make any sense because our old motorcycle was so slow you really didn’t need a helmet. In the helmets was a note to go out into his workshop. We went very quickly, and there was that motorcycle we had admired for so many weeks, and it was his gift to us. It was one of the great surprises of my life, and I will never forget it as long as I live.
I can’t begin to fathom the surprise of those first followers of Jesus, as they arrive at a tomb that is unexpectedly empty. As they hear the news from the first witnesses that the tomb is empty and they have seen the risen Christ.
It is, and remains God’s Great Surprise.