Be ready for anything: A theology of surprises

“Now unto Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever.” (Ephesians 3:20)

Anyone deciding to start following Jesus should buckle his seat-belt and prepare to be surprised. Nothing is as you expect it to be.

Consider such statements as…

–“Behold, I make all things new” (Revelation 21:5).

–“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. Old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

–“Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, neither has it entered into the heart of man the things that God has prepared for those who love Him” (I Corinthians 2:9).

When I asked my wife for the scripture that comes to mind on this subject, she said, “When Naomi returned from Moab widowed and childless, she said to Ruth, ‘I went out full but the Lord has brought me back empty.’ (Ruth 1:21.)  She had no idea the Lord was about to put her in the lineage of the Messiah, something far better than she could ever have asked or planned or imagined.”

We’ve all had that happen.  Something pulled the rug out from under us and we found ourselves bruised and hurting.  We began picking up the pieces and looking around for where to go, what to do.  Later, looking back, we could see the Lord was getting ready to bless us in unimaginable ways and that what seemed a major setback was all part of His process.

The ministry of our Lord was non-stop surprises….

The first chapter of Mark’s Gospel is Exhibit A.  After Jesus returns from the 40 days in the wilderness, His ministry is surprise after surprise….

–We are surprised by His choice of disciples (1:16ff). Rough-hewn fishermen, untheologically trained, individualistic, non-conforming.  Not what we would have predicted.

–The new disciples were surprised by their assignment: “I will make you become fishers of men.” People were expecting the Messiah to be a political leader, but He had something entirely else in mind.

–The worshipers in the synagogue were surprised by His teaching (1:21ff). “For He was teaching them as one having authority and not as the scribes.” Then, when He cast a demon out of the poor guy in the room, “they were all amazed.”  The news about Jesus spread like a fire out of control.

–After such a dramatic miracle in the synagogue, Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law of a fever (1:31).  Following the dinner she served them, no one was surprised by the crowd at the door, for all the neighbors brought their sick and troubled for Jesus to deal with.

— In 1:35, we are surprised to find Jesus praying early in the morning.  Does He need to pray the way we do? Then, the disciples were surprised when they finally located Him.  They rebuked Him slightly, as though to say, “Lord, you don’t have time for this.  A crowd has already gathered back at the house, ready for you to work your magic.”  But they were once again surprised…

–The Lord walked away from many needy people to stay on schedule with the ministry the Father had given Him.  “Let us go to the nearby towns in order to preach there. For that’s why I came.”  And they left.  The tyranny of the urgent would not dictate His plans.

–There is no greater surprise in this first chapter of Mark than the last episode.  A leper comes running to Jesus, violating the law which ordered lepers to avoid contact with normal people and to call out “unclean! unclean!”  The man says, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” To our surprise and his delight, Jesus did the unthinkable and touched the untouchable.  Instantly, the man’s flesh became new. Then, just as unexpectedly, Jesus says, “Now, keep this to yourself “(1:44).  Instead, “go and show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded.”  But–no surprise here–“the man went out and began to proclaim it freely and to spread the news about, to such an extent that Jesus could no longer publicly enter a city….”

That any of us can read the opening chapter of Mark without our imaginations slipping into overdrive and our hearts exploding with joy shows the numbing effect of a sinful and carnal spirit.  Let us pray for a sensitive heart and a mind willing to receive all that He has for us.

The parables are all about surprises. 

Take the 7 parables of Matthew 13.  It’s surprise after surprise…

–The parable of the soils.  The sower must have been surprised by the waste. So many good seeds falling on the pathway and feeding the birds, falling on stony ground and into the briars and coming to nothing.  But he surely would have been pleasantly surprised by the wonderful production of the seed on good soil.

–The parable of the tares. The workers were surprised to find the enemy had sown tares among the wheat.  Then, the farm-owner counseled them to let it all alone, allowing everything to grow together and the harvesters to separate it all in the fall. That was not what they were anticipating.

–The parable of the mustard seed.  We are surprised by how insignificant and small are the beginnings of God’s doings. When He got ready to save a world, He sent a Baby.

–The parable of the leaven.  We are surprised by the overwhelming growth of the dough as a result of the tiny bit of leaven.  The influence of the gospel is just that all-pervasive.

–The parable of the treasure in the field.  The man tripping over something in the field was surprised to discover a treasure.  Ever since, people have been pleasantly surprised to discover the wonderful Gospel of Jesus Christ even when they’d not been searching for it. My friend Mike sat in church with his girlfriend one Easter Sunday morning and heard that Jesus Christ had risen from the grave. That was new, and it became life-changing for him.  Mike is now a pastor and a teacher of preachers.

–The parable of the pearl of great price. Even though the merchant was in search of pearls, he was not prepared for the value of this one, causing him to sell everything he owned to possess it.  Those who seek God and find Him (see Jeremiah 29:13) often discover far more than they ever bargained for.  C. S. Lewis’ autobiography is titled “Surprised by Joy.”

–The parable of the dragnet. Nothing will be more surprising than judgement.  Every wrong shall be set right, every injustice settled, every faithful one rewarded.

The parable of the prodigal son contained surprise after surprise…

From Luke 15:11-32, unexpected happenings compete with one another for our attention…

–we are surprised by the insolence of the son. “Father, I’m tired of waiting for you to die, so give me my inheritance.”

–we are surprised at the indulgence of the father. Perhaps we shouldn’t be, since our Heavenly Father allows us to wander away from Him, allowing us to learn the hardest of lessons in the worst way possible.

–the prodigal was surprised how quickly his money was spent. Then, he was surprised by the disappearance of his friends.  And finally, surprised by the depth of degradation to which he sunk.  Slopping the pigs was bad enough, but when he began competing with them for nourishment, that was the final straw!

–he was surprised to find the father waiting and watching for his return, surprised by the totality of the father’s love and forgiveness, and knocked out by the celebration given for him.

–lastly, he was surprised by the rejection of the older brother, the only one injecting a sour note into the celebration.

–and, let it be noted, we are surprised by how perfectly our story matches up to this one.  The Lord certainly knows us, doesn’t He?

What then shall we say to these things?  Other than, “Buckle up and get ready.”

One.  We should not be telling others what God is going to do with them.  God knows the plans He has for each of us (Jeremiah 29:11), but He doesn’t seem to want to share this information with me about you, or vice versa.

Two. We should not lose hope when things are dark in our own lives.  God is still at work, the Holy Spirit ever present, and we are on schedule so long as we remain where He puts us.  Let us say with Job, “The Lord giveth, the Lord taketh away, blessed be the name of the Lord!”

Three. Let us be faithful when life is bleakest because God often does His best work at such times.  When Paul and Silas found themselves in the Philippi jail, beaten and bloody, mistreated and locked into stocks, they began “praying and singing hymns of praise to God” (Acts 16:25).  That night, God sent a miracle, saved a jailer and His family, and vindicated the ministry of these servants.

Four. Let us teach and encourage one another to keep trusting in good times and bad.

Five.  Let us remember the great role faith plays in our lives these days (Luke 18:8 and Hebrews 11:6). That means that in most cases we will not see what God is doing, how He is using our little acts of obedience, or what we shall become (I John 3:1ff).

Six. Let us begin each new day with praise to the Father who loves us, has redeemed us, and has plans for us that are abundantly, exceedingly beyond anything we could hope or dream or anticipate.  Let us trust Him.

Seven.  The ultimate surprise of all, of course, will be what lies one second on the other side of our death.  In that nano-second, we will see how good are the promises of God, how true Jesus’ revelations, and how real are the gates of pearl.  Surprised doesn’t begin to describe how we will react to that.  Get ready for the shock of a lifetime, friend.  The only way our hearts will be able to stand the shock of eternity will be the abiding presence of the Creator Himself.

Heaven is going to be unlike anything we have ever thought, dreamed, expected, taught, learned, or hoped.  (Remember, you heard it here!)

“Even so, come Lord Jesus!”









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