Imagine for a moment – just for a moment – that you have just won the Lottery. And not just any lottery, but either the Powerball Lottery or the Mega Millions jackpot. And imagine you had won back in early January when the Powerball jackpot stood at $570 million, while at the same time, the Mega Millions jackpot came in at a substantially less amount – $450 million. Had anyone been able to hit the astronomically impossible odds of getting the selections right for those two lottery prizes – they would have one $1,020,000,000.00!
But imagine winning one of those jackpots! What’s your first reaction when you discover that you’ve picked all of the winning numbers? What do you do? I imagine you’d be giddy with excitement. Jumping up and down. Screaming and shouting. “I own! I won! I won!...I can’t believe I won!” And then of course – you’d tell someone, right? You’d want to tell someone. Your lawyer. Your accountant. And of course – your pastor!
Now, I have no idea where either of these two jackpots stand today – because I really don’t pay attention. And quite frankly, I wouldn’t want to win that much money. I would be like the woman somewhere in New Hampshire who won the Powerball Lottery and who successfully won in court her right to remain anonymous.
And I’ll bet –oh – maybe that was a bad choice of words – but I wouldn’t be surprised that in the few minutes that I’ve been talking to you this [evening] [morning] some of you were already dreaming or fantasizing about what you would do with those outrageously huge jackpot amounts.
But for those who do win – against tremendous odds – the realization has to be overwhelming. Overwhelming sense of shock – surprise – and joy, wouldn’t you agree? A “wow” moment if ever there were one. Surprised by joy!
Same things happens with the Publisher’s Clearing House Sweepstakes. You’ve seen the commercials, right? A sweepstakes crew with TV cameras, lights, balloons, and a man with a huge $10 million dollar cardboard check rings the doorbell. Someone answers the door – and. well – you’ve seen their reaction, right? Their mouths are wide open. Their eyes are bugging out of their heads. They start screaming and dancing around and shouting, “I don’t believe it! I won, I won, I won I won!”
The same reaction you would have if someone rang your doorbell and handed you a check for $10 million check. Or a $1000 a week for life – or whatever the amount is now.
I suspect that two things are happening at the same time. First, their heads are telling them, “this can’t be happening,” and second, their emotions are showing unbridled joy. If you know what I’m talking about – and you have that image in your head – then you have an example of what it means to be “Surprised by joy!”
Now – you’ve got that picture in your head? Hold on to it. Because I want to think that that is the reaction that the disciples had when Jesus first appears to them after he is raised from the dead. It’s a perfect description for the way Luke tells this encounter between Jesus and his disciples. He says that “...in their joy, they were disbelieving.” In other words – they were “Surprised by joy!”
Now you have to understand that when Jesus died – when he was buried – all of their hopes – all of their dreams – all their expectations – had been buried along with him. You see, they knew that dead people don’t come back to life. I mean, what are the chances of that happening? You have a better chance of winning the Powerball lottery, right?
And yet – and yet – that’s what did happen. And when Jesus appears to them – it is a real live – flesh and blood Jesus.
Still – Jesus has to convince them that he is indeed alive – that he has indeed been raised – just like he told them he would be. Just like he told them he would be.
By the way, if this story sounds the least bit familiar, it should be. We heard this same story told to us last week from John’s Gospel, remember? Jesus stands among 10 of the disciples and says, “Shalom. Peace be with you.” And of course, Thomas wasn’t there, and he doubts what the disciples tell him about seeing Jesus – and a week later they’re all together again – this time Thomas is with them – and Jesus invites Thomas to reach out and touch him – asking him, “Do you believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have come to believe.” By the way – you know who that is, right? Yeah – that’s us. That’s us.
Today we’re hearing the same story. Luke tells the story a little bit differently than John, but nevertheless, it’s the same story – and Jesus has to convince the disciples that he really is alive.
Again, he shows them his hands and his side – and then he asks them – I don’t know – he asks them like a teenager coming home from school – “Ya got anything to eat?” I mean, think about it. He’s been in that tomb for three days. Probably hasn’t had anything to eat since well – what we call the Last Supper was most likely his last supper. He’s got to be famished.
“Yeah – Jesus – yeah. We’ve got some broiled fish over here? You like it broiled? Sorry we don’t have much of anything else, but if we’d known you were going to be here we would have…. Oh yeah. You did tell us, didn’t you? More than once.”
And Jesus eats the fish in front of them. Now – do not overlook this point. Jesus has to convince them that it is really he, and that he is not a ghost – he is not a vision – he is not the product of a mass hallucination. No. He eats food. In front of them. This Jesus who was dead and buried on Friday is alive on Sunday.
So now you know why we can say that the disciples were surprised by joy!
So Jesus appears to them. Talks with them. Eats with them. He shows them his wounds – his scars. And let me tell you this – just in case you might be wondering. This same resurrected Christ that the disciples saw on that first Easter day – and for 40 days thereafter – is the same Christ that we too will see someday. And for all eternity – for all eternity – Jesus will bear those marks – those scars – as a reminder to us of all that Jesus went through on our behalf.
Let me share with you the “…beautiful story about the courtship of Moses Mendelssohn, the grandfather of the great German composer, Felix Mendelssohn. Moses Mendelssohn was a small man with a misshapen, humped back. One day he visited a merchant in Hamburg who had a lovely daughter. Though Mendelssohn admired her greatly, she avoided him, seemingly afraid of his grotesque hump.
“On the last day of his visit he went to tell her goodbye. Her face seemed to beam with beauty but when he entered, she cast her eyes to the floor. Mendelssohn's heart ached for her. After some small talk, he slowly drew to the subject that filled his mind. ‘Do you believe that marriages are made in Heaven?’ he asked. (Talk about a pickup line!)
“‘Yes,” replied the young woman.’ And do you?’
“‘Of course,’ Mendelssohn answered. ‘I believe that at the birth of each child, the Lord says, ‘'That boy shall marry that girl.’ But in my case, the Lord also added, ‘But alas, his wife will have a terrible hump.’
“‘At that moment I called, ‘Oh Lord, that would be a tragedy for her. Please give me the humped back and let her be beautiful.’
“We are told that the young woman was so moved by these words that she reached for Mendelssohn's hand and later became his loving and faithful wife.” Sounds like one of those Hallmark Channe movies, doesn’t it!
In trying to deal with the meaning of the cross on which Christ died, the early church came to understand that those nail prints in the hands and feet of the Master should have been ours. But God so loved the world that he sent his own Son to bear the burden brought about by the iniquity of us all. That’s how much God really cares about us.”
To know that God loves you that much – that He sent His only Son to die for you – and to know that he is raised – that He lives – and that he bears those scars for all eternity – is an amazing thing.
So – those first disciples were surprised by joy. And from frightened and uncertain men and women, they became men and women of great courage and conviction.
All because of that day when they were surprised by joy – on that day when they saw and heard and touched the risen Savior.
Folks – I cannot stress this enough. The resurrection is not just some good and wonderful thing that happened to Jesus. The resurrection is not just some good and wonderful thing that God did for Jesus. The promise is for us too! We have seen– and we have heard the good news – and we now know what God can do with dead bodies – and you know what that means. Someday we too shall have a resurrection.
Because of the resurrection, we no longer have to live in fear of death. Jesus had the winning ticket – and won the lottery – the only lottery that really matters. And Jesus shares that winning ticket with those of us he calls his friends.
So don’t be afraid to dance and shout and sing. Because when Christ won – we won!