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Sunday Surprise

It was a cool spring night in the city. Caiaphas went to bed early. It had been a long day and an even longer week. The business day for the Jewish high priest had started long before day break that Friday. He had agreed reluctantly to hear the case of the Galilean. It had all taken place under the cover of darkness to prevent His followers from inciting a riot.

The trial went just as planned. Witnesses provided ample evidence against the Troublemaker. The council voted, and the verdict was announced. The Roman authorities gave their approval. By 9 a.m. the next day, the soldiers had taken Jesus to Golgotha. At 3 p.m., it was finished.

Sleep would come easy to Caiaphas that night. He was tired, but he was also relieved. Jesus has caused trouble for months. His teachings had upset the rabbis. Rumors of miracles had put the masses in a stir. Caiaphas never would forget the hysteria when the Galilean had paraded into town to shouts of the crowd just a week before. The incident at the temple mount was the last straw. The normally meek and mild Teacher went on a rampage through the outer courts, turning over tables and chasing out the merchants.

One troubling report followed another all week long. The Roman governor had warned him to get the problem under control, or he would find a high priest who could. Caiaphas didn't need to be warned twice.

Late in the week, the security police made the arrangements. An inside source provided the needed information. Jesus was now history!

Before going to his chambers, Caiaphas finished one last piece of business. He signed the request for a cohort of Roman soldiers to guard the tomb through the night. The last thing they needed was for the Galilean's followers to make trouble. Caiaphas and all the other Jewish authorities went to bed on Friday, content to be solved the Jesus problem. They thought it was over. They didn't expect the Sunday surprise.

But God raised Him from the dead! (Acts 2:24)
Jesus' friends also thought it was over. Unlike Caiaphas, few of them slept that Friday night. Never mind they hardly slept the night before. They were too heartbroken and scared to sleep—heartbroken that their Friend, Hero and Teacher had been killed, and scared they would be next. Most had scattered on Friday morning. A few had stayed with Him to the bitter end. They had stood near the cross and watched Him take His last breath. "It is finished," He said. Then He died. It was over.

His followers couldn't let the Romans dispose of Jesus' body as they would a common criminal. Joseph, a well-connected follower, had requested that Jesus' body be placed in his new tomb. Some women made a temporary preparation of the body for burial. Doing the job correctly would have to wait until after the Sabbath. That could wait. It was over. On Saturday, some of the followers huddled together in prayer. The braver ones ventured to the temple. Others quietly began the preparations for their return to Galilee. They had no reason to stay in the city. Jesus was gone. They thought it was over. But God raised Him from the dead!

They were not the last ones to think that! For 2,000 years, folks have been making that same mistake. Some, like Caiaphas, make themselves adversaries of Jesus. Others become skeptics. Most have been like a lot of people we know, maybe like some of us, neither serious followers nor outright adversaries.

It's not that we don't like Jesus. We just have other more pressing matters demanding our attention. Amazingly, some of us actually approach Easter as it was just another day. "What's the big deal?" we tell ourselves. Jesus lived. He taught nice lessons about loving our neighbors and forgiving our enemies. Then He died. It's over. No need to get all fanatical about it! But God raised Him from the dead!

People can do many things with Jesus. We can despise Him as a fool. We can oppose Him as a killjoy. We can admire His life and teachings, but anyone who thinks he or she can dismiss Him as unimportant makes a terrible mistake. Every time we date a check or turn the page of a calendar, we give silent testimony to the fact that something happened 2,000 years ago that we dare not ignore. It all hinges on what happened on Easter Sunday. We may think it is over, but God raised Him from the dead.

Those who dismiss Easter as unimportant are not the only ones to make a miscalculation about Jesus. We live in a world filled with more than its share of wicked people. Cruel dictators tyrannize people. The greedy trample the poor. Many live in selfish indifference, convinced that how they live and what they do is nobody's business but their own. We only go around once. "Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die" remains life's motto for many—no future, no hope and certainly no judgment! So what that Jesus said He is coming to judge the living and dead! Jesus is history. He's gone. It's over—but God raised Him from the dead.

One can make an opposite miscalculation at this point. While some attempt to dismiss Jesus, and others think they are done with Him, still others give up on Him. Life isn't always easy. A lot of us struggle with disappointment, heartache and frustration. We can conclude at those moments that our situation is beyond the reach of Jesus. Like the sister of Lazarus, we say, "If Jesus had been here, it would be different." But He isn't. He's gone. It's over—but God raised Him from the dead!

If we think it's over, we might dismiss Jesus. We might give up on Him. We also might give up on ourselves. That, too, would be a huge mistake. A lot of folks have made some mighty big mistakes in life. Others have committed a whole lot of little sins they just keep repeating. We conclude we are hopeless. Jesus is great. Faith is wonderful. Heaven would be marvelous—just not for us. It's too late. We had our chance, and we messed up. We are what we are, and that's all we will ever be. It's over for us...but God raised Him from the dead.

This is the great Easter Sunday surprise. No one is too bad or too far gone. No one is beyond a fresh start and new beginning. "Though your sins be as scarlet, they will be as white as snow" (Isa. 1:18). "If anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world" (1 John 2:1-2). "But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8).

Phillips Brooks, a great American preacher of another day said it well, "The great Easter truth is not that we are to live newly after death—that is not the great thing—but that we are to, and may, live nobly now because we are to live forever."

In a German prison camp in World War II, unbeknownst to the guards, the American prisoners managed to cobble together a makeshift radio. They would hide the radio when the Germans came around and bring it out at the right time to catch the latest news about the war. This went on for several weeks. Then in early May 1945, the Allied broadcast reported that the German high command had surrendered. The war was over! However, because of a communications breakdown, the word didn't get to the German camp. The guards knew nothing about what had happened in Berlin, but the word spread quickly among the prisoners. A celebration broke out from one end of the camp to the other.

For the next three days, the guards thought the prisoners had gone stark-raving mad. They sang, waved at guards, laughed at the German shepherd dogs, and shared jokes over meals. The Germans couldn't understand it, but they would. On the fourth day, the word finally reached the camp. The Americans awoke to find that all the Germans had fled, leaving the gates unlocked. The time of waiting had come to an end. (Philip Yancey, Christianity Today. March 2005, Vol. 49, No. 3, Page 120).

Not everyone understands Easter. Some are puzzled by our celebration, but we know. Someday everyone will...because God raised Him from the dead!

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