We all have those moments when what we expect is not what we get. One of my friends once surprised her dad with a glass of “Mountain Dew” that turned out to be an ice cold glass of pickle juice. April fools!
Amplify that sour taste a million times. That must have been the shock the disciples faced as Jesus was arrested and taken to be hung on a cross. This was not what they expected.
Skeptics of the resurrection of Jesus often say that the disciples must have stolen the body of Jesus, and lied about seeing the resurrected Christ. Could this be the case? Over 500 witnesses to the resurrected Christ—would they lie as well? Would so many of the disciples—at least 10, if not all of them—willingly die for an elaborate hoax? Would so many willingly face persecution—men and women who had ran in fear, boldly claiming the risen Lord?
It is important to recognize that no one, not even Jesus’ closest friends, expected Jesus to rise from the dead. These 12 men who had devoted three years of their lives to following Jesus’ every move, going where he went, teaching what he taught, doing what he did—they thought everything had come to an end with Jesus hanging on the cross. This one they believed to be the Messiah…was now dying the death of a criminal. The one they believed would bring revolution; establish a new kingdom, save their people, now hung helplessly on a blood-stained cross, struggling for breath and slowly dying. How confused they must have been! How heartbroken! How desperately afraid! So afraid, in fact, that they scattered and hid. Peter even denied knowing the one he had called Lord! To them, this wasn’t how it was supposed to be. This wasn’t what was supposed to happen! They never expected this.
Jesus cried out with his last breath, “It is finished!” To the disciples, did those words seem to be the death of hope?
There was another who received that day a gift that he couldn’t have expected. A criminal, with crimes so heinous his punishment was death on a cross. Amidst the barrage of hateful mockery flung at Jesus, and the cowering fear of fleeing disciples, this one man recognized the truth. “Jesus, remember me when you enter into your kingdom.” The commentary in my bible draws this phenomenal contrast. After Jesus death, one of his followers said to the yet unrecognized Christ on the road to Emmaus, “We had thought he was the Messiah who had come to rescue Israel.” Christ’s followers thought the hope for a kingdom was over, while the thief recognized the hope for the Kingdom had come! A dying criminal became the first person to receive new life in the sacrifice of Christ. …not what you’d expect.
“It is finished.” This was not the death of hope. This was the death…of DEATH! Hell was conquered on the cross! Jesus planted his kingdom through his ministry, watered it with his shed blood, and it blossomed with beauty and might as he rose from the grave—Jesus, the conqueror of death—the first fruit of a great harvest! As we place our faith in Christ, and make him Lord of our lives, we each are invited into his kingdom, into new life, into resurrection.
What a beautiful gift; a gift like nothing we could have ever expected!