Some surprises are good and some are bad. I remember some bad ones. I remember biting into what I thought was a chocolate donut and finding out it was a pumpernickel bagel or what I thought was a nice sweet grape and finding out it was a black olive. On the other hand, I remember as a child being told that I had to cut the grass right then and when I opened the shed finding that there was a brand new motorized go-cart for me. Whether or not we enjoy it, it is healthy for us to have some surprise in our life. It is when life becomes predictable that we lose what that which keeps us alive. The same is true of the Easter story. We can become familiar and content with the Easter story. There was a cross and an empty tomb. Yes, nice story. But use your imagination and move back two thousand years. There were many surprising things about the story that surprised the people at the time. Let us take a look.
Jesus Was Killed
First of all, people would have been surprised that Jesus would be killed at all. Remember when Jesus called Peter Satan? It was because Peter could not get his mind around the fact that Jesus could be crucified. One of the major differences between Christians and Muslims is that they do not believe that Jesus was crucified or was killed at all. They cannot imagine how God could allow such a thing. Think of what it was like. Jesus‘ enemies sent person after person to try and trip him up. Jesus handled them with ease. Jesus entered Jerusalem triumphantly, people shouting and welcoming as king. Jesus walked into the temple, overturned tables and chased people out and no one stood against him. Jesus was extremely popular and if he chose to keep out of Jerusalem, he could have likely had a nice long ministry and life. And yet he died on a cross.
Jesus Was Willing to Be Killed
It is possible that Jesus overestimated his popularity and the loyalty of his followers. But that is not what the Bible says. Jesus purposely travelled to Jerusalem, knowing that his death awaited him there. Jesus said: “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.” (John 10:18 NIV) Jesus also said: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13 ESV) Who killed Jesus? That is not the question. The question is: why did Jesus lay down his life and the answer is love.
Jesus’ Death Was Not Pointless
From time to time we hear of people who were good and had promising lives and careers. They may have been active in helping others. Then all of a sudden they are murdered. We shake our heads and think: what a waste. We might be tempted to do that with Jesus but he does not give us that option. The death of Jesus was to pay the penalty of our sins. We dare not stand before God trying to pay the penalty for ourselves. What Jesus did was take our sin on himself and pay the penalty that we could not. As John said: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 ESV)
Jesus’ Death Was Not the End
Imagine the grief of Jesus’ friends and family as he breathed his last breath on that cross. Perhaps they were holding out for a last minute miracle. Jesus would call lightning down from heaven to toast the Romans and he would slip down from the cross. But that did not happen. His body became weaker until he could not lift himself for another breath. Then he died. We get a glimpse of the pain and disappointment in the conversation with the disciples on the road to Emmaus. “The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.” (Luke 24:20–21 NIV) Not only had Jesus died, but so had the movement he had started. One problem. The person these disciples were having this conversation was with the risen Jesus. Jesus did not stay dead! On the third day, Jesus rose from the dead. This does not mean that he was a ghost that some people caught a glimpse of. This was Jesus‘ body raised from the dead. he still had the scars from the crucifixion. He was able to eat food with his friends. Jesus was alive!
Jesus‘ Shares His Resurrection
When we think of Jesus being alive, that makes a nice story. What a way to show to his enemies that he was right the whole time. But that is not all that happened. The Bible says that Jesus is the first fruits of the resurrection. What does that mean? Think about what it is like when you see that first shoot of green appearing out of the ground in the spring. The rest of the yard looks dead. But you know by that first glimpse of green that life will come to the lawn, the flowers and the trees. That is what Jesus‘ resurrection is for us. That is wonderful that Jesus rose again. But the Bible says that we will share in that resurrection. At some point in the future, Jesus will return. When that happens, those who are alive will be transformed and those who are dead will be raised. The empty tomb is not just ancient history, it speaks also to our one day empty tomb.
Jesus’ Work Continues
Today we think of Christianity as one of the major world religions and perhaps the largest religion. We think of the impact Christian leaders have made over the centuries. But put yourself back in the year of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Things were not so clear. We find in the Gospel of John, the disciples even having heard or seen the resurrected Christ looking like they were seriously considering giving up ministry to go back to fishing. They gave it a good run, it just did not work out. But soon Peter, the one who could not imagine Jesus dying much less rising, was preaching to thousands calling them to repent and actually being successful. Christians stood up to persecution. Not only did they not give up, their brave deaths actually made others want to join them. Christianity grew and grew. Christians continue in the work of Christ, following his teachings and waiting for his coming. Christianity has not just survived, it has thrived.
Have you had a good surprise lately? Try these ones. Jesus actually was crucified on a cross. It was not a mistake in judgment on Jesus’ part, it was his decision based on his love for the Father and for us. Jesus’ death was not just a pointless injustice, it was the necessary payment for our sins. Jesus did not stay dead but rose again on the third day. Jesus’ resurrection was not just for his benefit but he chooses to share that experience with us. The ministry of Jesus did not die on the cross, it continues today in the lives of Christians and churches who follow him. Surprising circumstances but just the kind of surprises that we need to keep hold of hope.