52. SURPRISE, SURPRISE, SURPRISE

This is the final post of an 8 part series I’m writing for Holy Week.  I hope you’ll come back to read the entire series in posts #45 – #52

 FROM PALM SUNDAY TO EASTER

SURPRISE, SURPRISE, SURPRISE!          The Resurrection of Jesus                John 20:1-31

 He was a lovable character first introduced in the 60’s television series, “The Andy Griffith Show”.  Gomer Pyle, played by Jim Nabors, was a socially awkward auto-mechanic who worked at Wally’s Filling Station.  Gomer was extremely moral and uncorrupted by the world around him, though somewhat naïve. Deputy Barney Fife would often deputize Gomer to assist him with a case, but Gomer’s ineptitude usually created a hindrance and provided more comic relief than help.  However, in the eyes of his friends, especially Sheriff Andy Taylor, Gomer’s shortcomings were generally outweighed by his gentle, generous spirit.

While Jim Nabors had a fantastic baritone singing voice, most people recognized him by the exclamation of the catch phrase Gomer Pyle always said when confronted by something that he didn’t know previously, “Surprise, Surprise, Surprise”.  Even today, almost 60 years since that phrase was last filmed for the show, people immediately recognize who said it. I’m not sure that’s what Jim Nabors wanted to be remembered for, but he never seemed to mind the association as the years rolled on.

As I was thinking about how to address the subject of Christ’s resurrection on that first Easter morning it was Gomer’s famous words that immediately came to mind. I tried to put myself in the situation recorded for us in the scriptures.  The previous two days had been little more than a nightmare, especially for the disciples of Jesus. Their intimate Passover dinner had been filled with a degree of intrigue that they didn’t yet fully comprehend.  Jesus had washed their feet, something the servants normally would do, then got very solemn as He passed around the bread and wine while talking about a new covenant.  Returning to the Garden of Gethsemane, where they often gathered for some private time together as a small group, the disciples couldn’t help but notice that Jesus seemed to be distracted.  He had withdrawn Himself to pray, which wasn’t that unusual, but there was something in His manner that seemed different, introspective, and troubled.

The arrest of Jesus later that night had sent the small group Jesus’ closest disciples into a tailspin.  A couple of them wanted to fight off the mob that had come to the Garden, but others were ready to turn and run almost immediately. They understood that the Jewish rulers had been opposed to Jesus’ ministry from the start. These religious authorities had tried to establish multiple roadblocks to hinder Jesus’ growing popularity, but to little avail.  As the disciples watched from a distance, they saw Jesus being questioned and accused by the Jewish ruling body, called the Sanhedrin, and then sent over to the Roman Governor, Pilate.  It appeared Pilate was ready to release Him, but ultimately Pilate gave into the whims of the angry crowd rather than act on his own good judgment or his wife’s sincere warning.

I don’t think the disciples ever really expected Jesus to be sent to the cross.  They had seen His miracles, listened to His teaching, and been mentored by His wisdom privately.  Yet they found themselves on that Friday standing in shock watching their Rabbi and friend nailed to a cross and crying out in agony.  That He had died so quickly spoke to the combined impact of the beating, flogging, and heart-broken condition He had already been in when the Roman soldiers nailed Him to that horrible instrument of death.  The disciples were actually glad that He hadn’t lingered any longer in pain, and were relieved to learn that Joseph of Arimathea had made such quick arrangements to secure Jesus’ body for burial.

As I suggested in my previous blog post, Saturday was the “DAY AFTER”. I won’t rehearse what I wrote there, but the “day after” any type of high level event, whether it is a positive experience or a negative experience, will leave you drained. The confusing emotions often make such days the worst day of your year, and this experience was no exception.  To quote a children’s classic, I think that Saturday after the crucifixion must have been a “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day”.

So, that brings us to Sunday morning.  I can’t say for sure what was going through the minds of the women who got up early to visit Jesus’ tomb, but I think I can safely assume they headed that direction with very heavy hearts.  The events of Friday were still so fresh in their minds.  The last thing they ever expected was that this would become the most exciting morning in their lives.

You know the story as well as I know. They arrived at the tomb to find the stone rolled away. There was no sign of Jesus’ body. An angel asked them the absurd question, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”  The next words must have sounded like a fairy tale to them. “He is not here!  He has risen from the dead”.   And that’s where I here Gomer in my head, “SURPRISE, SURPRISE, SURPRISE!”

 Those women would not be the only ones to be surprised that day or in the days to follow.  The disciples, gathering behind closed doors, got a surprise themselves.  Thomas, who had missed Jesus’ initial visit to the disciples, got a personal opportunity to be surprised, despite his previous doubts.   There were resurrection appearances around a fire for breakfast, and another on a walk to Emmaus. The scripture says 500 folks in one gathering got the surprise of their lives!

Easter Sunday had become a much different day than Good Friday!   It became a day of hope, of a new chapter in the history of humanity.  It was the undeniable illustration of God’s love and power.  Mankind couldn’t solve their problem of sin on their own, so God provided the solution.  Jesus had died for us, but death couldn’t keep Him in the ground. He had risen victorious and is even now interceding on our behalf seated next to His Father in heaven.    SURPRISE, SURPRISE, SURPRISE”. 

 I like surprises as much as the next person I guess. I’m all for a surprise birthday party,  daddies coming home from deployment to walk into their kid’s classrooms, an unexpected financial bonus in my paycheck, a personal card of encouragement delivered through the mail, enjoying a food dish I didn’t think I would,  and being chosen for an honor by my peers.  But friends, I can’t imagine the impact of the surprise Jesus pulled off on that first Easter morning.  It might have given me a heart attack!

But the exciting thing is, because of that Easter surprise I’ve enjoyed an incredible number of other unexpected surprises through the course of my life.  I found out that God really loves ME!   He didn’t just love the world……He loves ME!   Though I wanted to be an aeronautical engineer and make lots of money, I was shocked to learn at the age of 15 that God wanted me to go into the ministry. I wasn’t real keen on the idea at first, but another surprise is how much I’ve enjoyed it over the past 45+ years.  And even though going into the ministry meant I never would make a lot of money, I’ve still been able to see and experience more than I could have ever imagined. God has consistently surprised me with blessing after blessing…..even those that were temporarily disguised as problems.   I kind of think He likes the idea of surprising us if we will just trust Him.

Best of all, I know there are more surprises ahead……though, by their very nature,  I don’t know what most of them are.  But there’s one moment waiting for me that will still be a surprise even though I know it’s coming.  It’s actually three surprises that we all get to enjoy when we get to heaven:  Who’s there, who’s not there, but most surprising of all, that we’re there!

I do have faith in the promises of God’s Word, but trust me, on my first day in heaven I think I’ll still be surprised!!  You may be surprised I made it too…..but not half as surprised as you’ll be when you get there!  Isn’t that GREAT?

And it’s all because of Easter!  Gomer had it right,  “SURPRISE, SURPRISE, SURPRISE!