The other evening, my bride and I attended a “surprise” birthday party – or so we thought.
We arrived at the home where the surprise was to be held, only to be greeted by the “birthday boy” himself – he was celebrating his 75th birthday, and to our surprise, it was not a “surprise” party at all!
One of our new friends here was also at that party, and made the same mistake – thinking the evening was to be a surprise event for the husband. This new friend then related how just a few years prior he and his wife had come to the same house for what they KNEW was a surprise birthday party for the same fellow.
But they had entered the wrong date into their calendar and showed up a week early! The couple was at home entertaining some other friends for an evening of games, and upon their arrival our friends were invited to join right in – which they did!
Needless to say, the party a week later somewhat lost its luster – at least as a “surprise” party.
Have you ever been surprised? I mean REALLY surprised! So completely caught off guard that you really weren’t sure if it were for real or not!
Like having your breath knocked out of you as you go down the first big hill on a roller coaster? Or like walking through a haunted house at Halloween time, and having a strange hand reach out and grab your ankle in the middle of a dark hallway? Like biting into that piece of pie that you thought was banana cream, only to find out it was liverwurst instead? (OK, so you were eating it in a dark room!)
I must tell you that I have been a party to a few surprises in my life. One of the best was some years ago when my whole family drove in to Oak Ridge, Tennessee to surprise my mother on her 75th birthday!
It was worth all the planning and the effort, not to mention the fun, to see the look of surprise on her face when she walked into the room at the hotel there that night, and saw people she had not seen in years — brothers and sisters and all her children, nieces and nephews and grandchildren – all there for her!.
And then there was the surprise that my wife and I experienced after celebrating our 25th anniversary on our first cruise! Upon our return home, we discovered much to our astonishment that our three children had used that time to carry out a plan to surprise us with a 25th anniversary party when we returned. And yes, we WERE surprised!
One of the dictionary definitions for “SURPRISE” is “to strike with wonder or amazement, especially because unexpected.” And we certainly were struck with wonder and amazement! I remember that at the time we were quite impressed that our children could work so well together to accomplish something like this! And It WAS unexpected! After all, they were teenagers at the time. It was also tremendously exciting to see so many friends, so much food, and to realize that so many people worked so well together to pull it off!
But you know, even THAT surprise won’t quite hold a candle to the surprise that awaits us someday! The Bible says that we will face a wonder-full and amaze–ing surprise someday when “the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.” (Check out 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).
I don’t know about you, but the signs of the times seem to say that this surprise is not too far ahead. I also believe that the beauty and the joy of being with Christ is that indeed all those who are IN CHRIST will now be WITH CHRIST.
In one of my conversations with my mother about heaven, she related how much she was looking forward to seeing my father there. We rejoiced over the fact that my father knew the Lord as well, and that Mom would indeed see him there. But then we came back to the reality that the most important thing about heaven is seeing CHRIST, not her husband!
Someone once asked John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, and Arminian in his theology, if he thought he would see George Whitefield, one of the other founders of Methodism but Calvinistic in theology, in heaven.
Wesley replied, “Absolutely not!” The questioner was very surprised, since both were very involved and united in starting the same movement.
Then Wesley continued, “George will be so close to the throne of Jesus in heaven and I will be so distant that I will not even catch a glimpse of him!”
The reality is heaven will be filled with surprises. While we may not be too concerned about anyone other than Christ, we will find ourselves surprised by who IS there as well as surprised by who is NOT there!
Some of the “best” people in the world will miss out on heaven, and some of the least likely people on the face of the earth will be there.
Will you be there? John 5:24 says what the criteria is for getting there.
According to Jesus’ own words, “I tell you the truth, whoever HEARS my word and BELIEVES him who sent me HAS (not “will have” or “hopes to have”) eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.”
My prayer this week for you is that YOU will NOT be surprised where you end up – and that it is in HEAVEN!
Chuck Tabor is a regular columnist for the Hillsboro Times-Gazette and the Wilmington News Journal. He is also the former Pastor of Faith Community Church in Hillsboro and Port William UMC.