I’m sure you all remember that just a few weeks ago there was the largest Powerball jackpot ever! Do you remember how high the jackpot got? That’s right. $640 million! Now I’m not going to ask if any of you bought tickets – but if you did – I’m sure you had your dreams and fantasies about what you would do with your winnings – right?
But three people did win – and shared that $640 million jackpot. One couple this week came forward and the man said that when he told his wife he had the winning numbers – he said that she started giggling – and giggled for about 4 hours.
Well, I suspect that he was exaggerating, but for those winners I would think that when they realized that they were winners that their surprise at winning was overwhelming. It was a “wow” moment – a wow moment when they were surprised by joy.
Now you’ve all seen those Publisher’s Clearing House Sweepstakes commercials, right? You’ve seen them. 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 you notice their reaction, right?
The same reaction you and I would have if someone rang our doorbell and handed us a $10 million check. 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!”
Two things are usually happening at the same time. Their heads are telling them, “this can’t be happening,” and 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 “disbelieve for joy.” These folks are surprised by joy.
Now if 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 they “disbelieved for joy.”
Now you have to understand that when Jesus died – when he was buried 00 it is as though 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.
You see – 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.”
You remember that, right? Well here we are – it’s the same story – the same story told by Luke. Luke tells the story a little bit differently than John, but nevertheless, 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?”
“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. 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 – and eating fish!
What a surprise! 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. I am not alone in this when I say that the resurrected Christ –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.
So yes, you see, God loves you very much! God loves you that much and proves it to you – by allowing Jesus to go to the cross for you and for me. Now maybe it’s tough for you to believe. Maybe it’s tough for you to believe that God does care for you that much. Maybe it’s tough sometimes to believe that God’s not mad at you. God’s not mad at you. Does that surprise you?
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.
“‘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.”
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. [Does that surprise you? Does that still surprise you? ] Can you believe that God really cares about us that much?”
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 awesome. It’s wonderful! And like those first disciples on that first Easter day – we might even disbelieve for joy!
Hey! When was the last time you can recall being consumed with overwhelming, unexpected joy? When was the last time you were surprised by joy?
The wonderful thing is that because Jesus lives, because those early disciples were witnesses to his resurrection – and they couldn’t keep from telling others about it – well the wonderful and surprising thing is that we too have heard that same Good News.
Those first disciples were surprised by joy. And from frightened and uncertain men and women, they became apostles – disciples – of great courage and conviction.
All because they were surprised one day when they saw and heard and touched the risen Savior. All because they were surprised one day by joy.
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. And we will be surprised by joy!
Because of the resurrection, Satan’s number is up! 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. Christ won! We won! Surprised? Surprised by joy! Indeed!