January 1, 2017

The God of Surprises

By Ross Calkins

The year 2016 has been the year of the unexpected.There was a surprising rise to power for Rodrigo Duterte as the Philippines elected its first Mindanaoan president; and a surprising victory for Donald Trump as the United States elected its first reality TV personality to sit in the Oval Office.

Who would have thought it would happen? As Bob Dylan said, “The times, they are a-changin’.”

And speaking of surprises, who would have thought 50 years ago that a troubadour from Greenwich Village would receive this year’s Nobel Prize for his contributions in the field of literature?

Prognosticators make their predictions. Pundits offer their opinions. Pollsters do their research. Butno one knows the future, which troubles many people.

Those of us who like to be prepared want to know what’s coming so we can get ready for it. And for many of the rest of us, curiosity about the unknown keeps us tuned to what is most likely to happen next.

It’s really nothing new. It isn’t merely a contemporary phenomenon. People have always been curious, even worried, about what the future holds.

Christ’s disciples expressed their interest in what lay ahead as they sat with Him on the Mount of Olives one afternoon, looking across the Kidron Valley to the shimmering gold surface of the Hebrew Temple. “‘Tell us,’ they said, ‘what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matt. 24:3).

For the followers of Jesus looking forward to 2017, the best handle we have on an uncertain future is still the presence and promises of Jesus.

Jesus laid out many of the things that would happen in the future, and wove in warnings of trouble that His followers would face. But even after the Master Himself had given His sweeping prophecies of what lay ahead, His followers were largely in the dark about what would happen in the next three months, even the next 12 hours.

They didn’t understand the cross. They didn’t anticipate the resurrection. And they certainly had no clue how the Spirit would stir things up at Pentecost.

The best tool they had for dealing with an uncertain future was that Jesus had promised to always be with them, and never forsake them.

He had told them about the Holy Spirit, but they couldn’t comprehend it. He had told them about the cross, but they didn’t want to hear it. He had told them about the resurrection, but to them it didn’t make sense, even though they heard the words in plain English . . . um, I mean Aramaic, or Hebrew, or Greek, whatever language He was using at the time.

For the followers of Jesus looking forward to 2017, the best handle we have on an uncertain future is still the presence and promises of Jesus. Anything in our world could change, but not Him. He is the God who continues to surprise us with how faithful He is. When our troubles seem unsolvable, we pray, and voila! something happens we would never have dreamed of. Our pain seems unbearable, we cry out to Him, and somehow we make it through. The surprises never cease.

After all, where would we find a better example of the Surprise-Maker than in the Christmas story. The great Yahweh took a deep breath and entered the womb of a teenage girl. He hid for nine months, until one day, the water broke, and out came the God of the Universe, looking much like millions of other babies that had been born since the dawn of time.

Who would have thought that the glorious Redeemer would introduce himself this way? Certainly not the pundits or pollsters. It was the brainchild of the God of surprises, the One who still leads His children through the unexpected, and invites them to hang onto Him and enjoy the ride.

Ross Calkins is pastor of Bellflower, California, Seventh-day Adventist Church.