It is interesting how the notion of unexpectedness appears through the Passion Week of Jesus’ life. He rode into town on a donkey instead of a warhorse. As a Messiah, he was not what people expected or wanted him to be. He was something altogether different.
All four of the gospel accounts talk about Resurrection morning. Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb looking to see his body. Was she expecting to find it? Did she possibly internally really wonder if he indeed would rise like he said? Is that why she had come there so early in the morning? We do not know, but she came, nonetheless.
He was not where she was looking for him to be. Peter later comes to see for himself and Jesus is not where Peter expects him to be.
As Jesus begins making appearances to his disciples now, it’s intriguing how often he is simply not recognized. The 2 on Emmaus road do not see him; the disciples in the room praying on Monday are taken by shock when he appears suddenly in their midst.
What is it about Jesus that is unexpected? He is not found where we go looking for him. When he appears we don’t immediately recognize him.
What is it we expect of Jesus and where does He fail to fit into our expectations of what and who he is? The Jews expected a political deliverer; we expect one who will solve life’s problems for us. We go looking for Jesus in our life problems and expect him to be right there meeting our every need just like the old hymns say he will. He’s here to deliver us from our own bondages: financial, relational, philosophical, physical. And when He doesn’t, we respond with rejection like the Jews did. Oh, its not always the kind of rejection where we out and out demand his death at our hands. It’s most often the kind where He is simply relegated to “fact” in our lives that must be considered for salvation; what takes central stage for us instead is need-meeting. Our deliverance and salvation politically is our chief concern. Jesus is not what we expect him to be when this is what we expect.
Jesus doesn’t always look like we think He will when he shows up. He rebukes his followers for not really believed that he would rise from the dead as he did. They’re surprised to see him because they didn’t expect to see him at all. When Jesus shows up in our lives in a real way and does the things we don’t expect him to do and sometimes don’t want him to do, we are surprised because we didn’t really believe he was a Person after all. He was a divine idea, a holy belief, an abstract truth residing in heaven. The commands of Jesus are the sacred things; the thought that a living, breathing person is actually behind those things are beyond the scope of our comprehension.
We never considered for a moment the possibility that Jesus is every bit as real as the man who was stabbed and hung on a Roman cross. We look for him in the church pew listening the sermon; we look for him in the desperate prayer when pain is on the line; we look for him in the job place to make our work situation better, in our home to make life tolerable, in the waving of a flag when national tragedy strikes. That’s where we look for him. We don’t find him there like we think we do. Where we don’t see him is when he appears in the life of somebody who needs something from us, when great pleasure is ours for the taking and we look for self-satisfaction in it; we don’t recognize him when he shows up in the middle of the day-by-day drudgery when nothing spectacular is happening and everything is basically normal and he calls for a radical throwing down of habits and values.
He calls to us from the unexpected places, appears in the most improbable of situations and we don’t always see him because we’re not really looking. We think we’ve got Jesus figured out. He won’t really die, Peter said. And besides, if He does, I’ll die with him. Yet, when it came down to it, Jesus had Peter pegged. That’s how distorted our perceptions really. What we find when Jesus begins to show up in our lives is we begin to do things we never expected.
Peter never believed he would betray Jesus.
Mary never believed he would really die.
The disciples never thought he would really go away.
Judas never believed his betrayal would kill his Master.
We never believe we are as corrupt and sinful as we really are.
We never believe we need Jesus as much as we really do.
We think we love Him when we don’t know what that means.
We never believe His love for us is as real as it is.
The blood dripping off the shredded wrists. The heart, pierced by a Roman spear, still and lifeless. The limp body of the God-man, dead and broken on public display. The words above him mocking both God and the people: this is the King. A king, indeed. Naked, humiliated, tortured, completely at the mercy of the ones with the whip and the hammer. This is no king.
A rich man’s tomb offered as a final resting place. An indication of the finality and unexpectedness of the moment. And so Friday finishes. This is not who we thought. This is not how life is supposed to turn out. Where’s the glory? The triumph? The deliverance and majesty the prophets spoke of? Where is the deliverance and restoration for God’s people that was promised?
Where is the victory of the Christian life? This isn’t how I thought it was supposed to be. All I’ve wound up with is misery and heartache, struggles and turmoil. Everything got worse as I walked with Jesus, not better. Sure, something’s changed. But it’s like something was awakened down inside, stirred up to life and energized with great expectations about the future only to be let down.
Then Sunday morning dawns and the picture begins to emerge onto the canvas. One last look into the cavern of death and despair that wraps up our lives and the shock comes again. Jesus has left it. Where death dominated, life conquered. Where hopelessness and grief reigned, a spark of hope and promise leapt out of the darkness. And Mary goes to find Peter, the one who’d betrayed Jesus most intimately. The Great Reversal has begun.