Surprise, Surprise, Surprise
Forgiveness, New Beginnings
A number of years ago, shortly after cable television came to our community, our church put our Sunday worship on the public access channel. We were the only program on the channel but we felt it was a way to expand our ministry. It was quite an adventure. Every Wednesday afternoon I would head out to the cable towers, park in the field and walk to the shed which housed the equipment. We would patch the video recorder into the system and sit there while the broadcast played. It was not hi-tech, but we were on television.
The very first broadcast was the most interesting. The process was not only new to me . . . it was also new to the cable guy. When 4:00 p.m. came around we patched in the video. We could see the picture fine but we weren’t able to hear the sound. We must have played with the thing for 15 minutes before we finally got the sound to play with the picture.
Anyway, I came home a little frustrated but felt we had accomplished our goal . . . the gospel was going out over the airwaves. When I walked in the house I asked Maggie if she was watching. She said “Yes,” and then started laughing so hard that she was crying. (This was not the response I was looking for). When she calmed down enough to speak, she told me that while the video was playing the first several minutes, you could see the church and me . . . but the sound was coming from channel 2 . . . which at that time, was TBS. And during that half hour TBS was showing reruns of Gomer Pyle USMC with Jim Nabors. So, while I was standing in the pulpit in a suit and tie, you were hearing the southern drawl of Gomer saying, “Surprise, Surprise, Surprise”. (As a postscript, some would tell that was the high point of our venture into television.)
Life is full of surprises. Some of those surprises are delightful. Others are painful. We have been following the story of Jacob and his sons as we have journeyed through the book of Genesis. This morning we see one of those great surprises in life. Jacob, who had loved Joseph, believed that he had lost his son, to the wild animals. He had spent over 20 years in mourning. In our text Jacob discovers that his son is not dead but is in reality leading Egypt. It is a moving story.
JACOB RESISTED THE TESTIMONY OF THE SONS
At long last (we are sure that Jacob has been watching for the boys for days if not longer) the sons of Jacob return from their trip to Egypt for food. To Jacob’s delight, Simeon is with them (you remember he had been kept in jail until the boys returned with Benjamin), and Benjamin has returned home safely as well. It is a good day. But it is only the beginning. What Jacob is told next, stuns him.
So they went up out of Egypt and came to their father Jacob in the land of Canaan. They told him, “Joseph is still alive! In fact, he is ruler of all Egypt.” Jacob was stunned; he did not believe them. (45:25-26)
Notice that Jacob’s first response to the word that Joseph was alive was unbelief. And this really isn’t hard to understand. I think Jacob didn’t want to believe this truth for a couple of reasons. First, I believe the ten brothers had to humbly admit before their father what they had done. And the horror of the words would have made Jacob naturally resist. What parent wants to believe negative things about their children? It is true that we see no record of the brothers confession. But I believe that this conversation was not recorded because it was so humiliating and so private that it could not be written down.
But there is a second reason that Jacob might have disbelieved. It was simple: He was afraid to believe it. He couldn’t bear to believe that it was true and then “lose Joseph again.” Can you imagine the nights that Jacob prayed that his son would show up and that it would all be a mistake? I wonder how many times Jacob cried out to the Lord in anger? Can you imagine the many times Jacob cried himself to sleep? The process was so painful that Jacob couldn’t bring himself to believe it was true . . . the risk was too great.
How many of you have gone through something similar? Perhaps you were involved in a relationship and you believed you were in love. Then, suddenly and without warning, you were told that the relationship was over. Your spouse told you that they no longer loved you . . . in fact, they may have never loved you. It caught you by surprise and the hurt was so intense that ever since that time, you have been reluctant and afraid to trust anyone again.
Or maybe you gave yourself fully to some job. You threw yourself into your work and then you received a notice that your company was “down sizing” and your job was being eliminated. That sense of betrayal that you felt has made it difficult for you to give yourself to any job since then. You work but you always hold something back in order to protect yourself. You find it hard to believe that any employer really cares about their employees.
Do you realize that this is the way some people respond to the message of salvation and life in Christ? Some react with disbelief because they don’t want to believe the truth that they cannot earn their own salvation. They can’t bear the thought that there is a God who is Holy and who will judge those who reject Him. They don’t believe because they don’t want to believe the truth. They are much happier in the make-believe world that God will save everyone in the end.
But others don’t believe because they have built walls that have come from hurt. They have been taken advantage of and they will not trust anyone . . . even God . . . again.
- they prayed for a healing that never came
- they belonged to a church that used them and hurt them
- they have gone through a tragedy and concluded that God was absent
- they have become cynical of anything that sounds “too good to be true”
I understand this fear. And I say with the greatest compassion, “please, learn from Jacob”. Things are not always what they appear. Jacob had drawn wrong conclusions. And I suggest that the pain that you have endured is similar. It may seem that God has abandoned or ignored you . . . but He hasn’t. You may not be able to see the work He is doing . . . but that doesn’t mean that something isn’t being done. The Bible is filled with stories of people who have discovered the truth that things are not what they thought they were.
- The disciples who thought that the death of Jesus was the end
- The sisters of Lazarus who concluded that Jesus didn’t care about them
- David who wondered if God had forgotten His promise that he would be King as Saul sought to kill him
- The onlookers who thought Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego would be consumed by the fire
- The children of Israel who thought there was no way of escape with the Egyptians coming from behind and the Red Sea lurking ahead.
- Gehazi, the servant of Elisha who concluded that since their city was surrounded by soldiers things were hopeless. But Elisha replied, “those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” And then Elisha prayed that eyes of the servant would be opened . . . and he saw the hosts of Heaven defending them. (2 Kings 6)
And the same is true for us. We may not be able to see what is going on. But God IS at work.
THE EVIDENCE CONVINCED JACOB THAT THE PROCLAMATION WAS TRUE
In light of Jacob’s resistance, notice how he came to believe the truth. We are told that Joseph sent carts for the family and
“ten donkeys loaded with the best things of Egypt, ten female donkeys loaded with grain and bread and other provisions for his journey.” (v. 23)”When he saw the carts Joseph had sent to carry him back, the spirit of their father Jacob revived.” (v. 27)
Jacob resisted the news from the sons . . . but he couldn’t resist the evidence. He had sent his sons away wondering if they would ever return. Not only did they return with Benjamin and Simeon . . . they returned with the supplies they sought and also with extra food, donkeys, wagons, new clothes and much, much, much more. In this time of famine there was only one explanation: they were telling the truth.
And a person’s resistance to the message of the gospel can also be overcome if they are willing to examine the evidence. There is the evidence of God’s Word. The Bible speaks words that open doors to understanding. It is a book that speaks with honesty. There are no sugar coated saints here . . . just normal people who are seeking to follow the Lord. There is a wisdom in God’s Book that is unexplainable apart from God. When you dare to trust the promises of Scripture you find them pulsating with life. But there is more.
But there is also the matter of the prophecies that have been fulfilled. They are not just idle wishes . . . they are clear predictions that God brought to pass. In fact, there is no historical work that has been more critically and closely examined than the Bible . . . and yet, it stands as a reliable and powerful historical document. . . but also as the Words of the God of the Universe.
There is the evidence of Christ’s death and resurrection. We have recounted it many times at Easter. The evidence for the historical validity of the death and resurrection of Christ is overwhelming.
- historical records . . . He really lived, He was crucified by Roman authorities, his heart was pierced, He was declared dead, He was buried and sealed in a tomb
- the empty tomb and the guards with no answers. All the Romans had to do was produce a body and Christianity would have been silenced forever. But there was no body.
- the eyewitness accounts of appearances. Hundreds of people saw Jesus after His resurrection. Paul told the Corinthians to talk to them . . . to check it out.
There is the witness of countless transformed lives. Chief among these are the disciples themselves. These men were changed from cowards to bold martyrs. All throughout the Bible we read the story of people who were tremendously transformed through their faith in God. There was Abraham, David, Gideon, Isaiah, Amos, the disciples, Paul and hundreds of others in the early church. And then there are the names over the centuries: Augustine, Joan of Ark, the Bishop Polycarp, Luther, Moody, Colson, Mother Teresa, Corrie Ten Boom, . . . and many of us.
You probably know people who were heading to destruction and who’s life was suddenly turned around because of an encounter with God’s grace. The evidence is there, my friend . . . why are you still resisting?
THE TRUTH, WHEN ACCEPTED LED TO RENEWED LIFE AND JOYFUL REUNION
As a result of Jacob’s believing of the truth several things happened:
First, His perspective Changed No longer did Jacob feel that life was a great burden. Suddenly he saw that God had been working even in the painful time. Now Jacob saw hope where he had known despair.
Second, His attitude Changed. The spirit of Jacob “revived”. This man who had battled depression suddenly exploded with joy. This one who was so worn down by life suddenly found new energy for living. Jacob now had “something to live for”. Now I don’t want to imply that following Christ is always an enjoyable or easy experience. It’s not. However, I do think there is an undercurrent of joy in all circumstances for the one who has been reconciled with Christ. We have an anchor, we have the promises of God, we have the comfort and strength of God’s Spirit.
Third, He experienced a long dreamt of reunion. I don’t think Jacob ever anticipated seeing Joseph again. But, I do believe Jacob imagined what it would be like to see his son again. You see, there were so many things Jacob wished he had said and did. How often he must have replayed special moments in his mind. I bet there was seldom a day went by when something didn’t remind Jacob of Joseph.
What emotion packed words; “he threw his arms around his father and wept for a long time.” Pause and let those words sink in. Can you feel the depth of emotion here?
Have you ever been in a situation where you were reconciled with someone you loved after a painfully long absence? Maybe you were reunited with a spouse after serving in a war. Maybe you were reunited after a long “touch and go” illness. Maybe it was an old friend who had moved away. Whatever it was, few of us have known the kind of joy that is evidenced here.
But I can’t help reading these words and thinking about the greatest reunion of all. The Bible tells us that there is coming a day when will be reunited with all who have gone before us who are in the faith. What a day that will be! We will see
- the spouse who went home first
- the child who died before their time
- our parents and grandparents
- the influential people of our lives
At that time we won’t ask questions. We won’t make small talk. We will run to the arms of the ones we love and hold on and weep for joy for a long time.
But even that is not the reunion I’m thinking of. I’m thinking of the day when I am wrapped in the arms of Jesus. Dare to imagine that moment. You finally see the Savior you have served, trusted, and longed for. There He is, the Savior who gave His life for your redemption and who brought you to faith and turned you from death to life. I don’t know what that day will be. Will we fall on our faces in grateful adoration? Or will we run to His arms? Either way I know the Lord will draw us to Himself and wrap His arms around us and say, “Welcome Home”. At that time we will hold Him and weep for a long time.
said he only had
on his calendar
and that day
what I want too.
And I want
[Joe Bayly, Psalms of My Life Psalm 26]
This is a great story . . . but it is recorded not only for it’s factual basis but also for what it can teach us. Let me suggest two applications.
First, look at your own life. What keeps you from following the Lord more fully? What is it that robs you of joy? Maybe you hold back because you resist what it is that the Lord is saying. Or maybe you’ve been burned in life and you are afraid to trust anyone in the way that God calls you to believe. If that’s the case, my friend, I encourage you to look at the evidence. Open the book and read it. Listen to what God is saying. Look closely at the evidence for the historical reliability for what we know about Jesus. Especially look at the evidence for the resurrection of Christ. Think about those who you know who have been changed by an encounter with this great Savior. Look at the evidence and dare to trust Him . . . . You won’t be sorry.
It’s possible that you look around you and say, “you don’t understand. I’m not like you. God could never love and forgive me.” If that’s what you are thinking then you have misread the situation. There is (hopefully) no one who is here today who sits back with a feeling of smug self-righteouness. We are not good people . . . we are forgiven people! We all have baggage. We have all done stupid, rebellious things. You are not any different than the rest of us here. God will love, forgive, and transform you . . . just as He has done with many of us. The invitation really is for you. Dare to trust Him.
And it is possible that you don’t follow more fully because you are weighted down by the world. Life has you so busy, the demands are so great, that you feel you don’t have time to pursue your relationship with God. You drop into bed every night exhausted. You run from one thing to another all day long. When do you have time for spiritual things? Friend, may I give you a prescription? Take a few moments out of every day this week and think about Heaven. Imagine that reunion. Imagine the beauty, the glory, the sense of wholeness and joy on that day. Because if you will take some time to think about that day . . . it will change the way you live this day.
I don’t think we can even come close to imagining how great Heaven will really be. Our minds are unable to imagine something so far beyond our present experience. And, who knows, maybe on that day, as we spend our first morning in Heaven we will hear someone crying out, “Surprise, Surprise, Surprise.” But when we do, we will smile because it will be the most delightful surprise of all.