Expecting the Unexpected

I preached this message on Easter Sunday, April 9, 2023. Here is the link to the text, Mark 15:42-16:8.


When was the last time something surprising and unexpected happened in your life? And by that I mean something good, something wonderful, but something that, frankly, you really didn’t see coming. Now, if you’re like me, maybe you have trouble thinking of something.

So let me ask another question: when it comes to God and what he does, should we expect the unexpected?

What are our expectations of God and what he might or could or will do? Do we think God can surprise us and do something in our lives or in our community that we didn’t see coming? And isn’t that what the resurrection of Jesus is about?

“Then he laid him in a tomb”

The resurrection account we read in Mark’s Gospel is filled with people who did not expect what happened. Jesus was dead. Whatever began with his life and ministry now seemed to be over.

Consider Joseph of Arimathea. He was a member of the Sanhedrin, but was a dissenting voice who didn’t want to condemn Jesus. We’re told in our passage that he was looking forward to the kingdom of God. So he was a prominent Jewish leader. He also loved God and wanted to see God’s kingdom come. He wanted to see God act. He is also described in the Gospels of Matthew and John as a disciple of Jesus — though secretly, for fear of the other Jewish leaders.

It is Joseph who approaches Pilate boldly following Jesus’ death to ask for Jesus’ body. Being a disciple of Jesus, he wants to honour him and give him a proper burial. In fact, the tomb belonged to Joseph’s family. Of course, Joseph found himself having to do this on the evening before the Sabbath, so he didn’t have a lot of time. He wrapped Jesus’ body with strips of linen cloth and laid him in the newly cut tomb.

Joseph had every expectation that Jesus’ body would simply remain in the tomb. Whatever else he thought about Jesus, he expected him to remain dead. There was no reason to expect otherwise.

And Joseph is not the only one in the story. There is also Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and a woman named Salome. The Gospel accounts vary slightly, but Mary Magdalene is the common thread. And these woman have gotten up early on the third day to go anoint Jesus’ body. Perhaps there hadn’t been time when he was placed in the tomb because of the Sabbath.

These women were among Jesus’ followers. They would have been both recipients of his ministry and supporters of his ministry. They too wanted to do their part to honour their Lord.

Clearly, they also had every expectation that Jesus was going to be in the tomb. No other possibility would have occurred to them. Dead men don’t typically get back up. They even talked about how they would have the massive stone rolled away from the entrance to the tomb.

Now, we do know that prior to his death Jesus had told his disciples on three separate occasions that after he was killed he would rise. He told them in advance about his resurrection. Obviously, his words didn’t really sink in. And that’s not a huge surprise. I mean, think about it. Jesus told his disciples, who had trouble understanding him on a number of occasions, that the impossible, the unthinkable, the completely unexpected was going to happen.

And we don’t know if these women, much less Joseph, were familiar with what Jesus told his disciples.

Here’s the thing: very little about their worldview, their understanding of God, about the Messiah, could have prepared them for the experience of Jesus’ resurrection.

And all their actions demonstrate this. Why go to the tomb to anoint the body of a man who was going to rise from the dead? Indeed, why bury him at all? And as far as the rest of Jesus’ disciples go, this is true for them too. Remember, they’re all in hiding. Afraid of the authorities. Distraught that Jesus is dead. Disillusioned. Disappointed. Discouraged.

What do we think their expectations of God were at this time? Do you think they expected or maybe hoped for the unexpected? Why or why not? With all that they knew of Jesus, all he did and taught, should they have been expecting the unexpected?

“He has risen!”

However we answer that question, imagine what it must have been like for those women going to the tomb. Imagine having purchased all the spices needed to properly anoint Jesus’ body. Imagine talking about whether or not there would be someone there who could move the stone in front of the tomb.

All of their expectations were about finding the corpse of a dead man. All of their expectations were about doing their religious duty on behalf of Jesus and then no doubt going home and somehow going on with their lives.

But then.

But then they got to the tomb. The stone had been rolled away. And they entered the tomb only to see a young man dressed in white robe sitting on the right side. Matthew’s Gospel tells us this figure is actually an angel and that he had rolled away the stone.

This angel then speaks words that would point these women — and eventually all of the disciples — to something that they most certainly did not expect: You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here.

Of course, we’ve heard this story countless times; this was their first time. And they weren’t just hearing the story; they were living the story. They were there!

Imagine what that must have been like. Or maybe we can’t. Because the event of finding the empty tomb, of discovering that Jesus was raised, of meeting the risen Jesus in person would have completely upended their reality, of everything they thought they knew and understood.

Because here on this first Easter Sunday Jesus changed the game. The rules you thought governed the universe have been tossed out. What you never would have — even could have — expected has actually happened. Jesus, who was dead, was now alive. The tomb was empty.

How do you even begin to process such an experience? Look at what it says in our passage about how the women react initially: They went out and ran from the tomb, because trembling and astonishment overwhelmed them. And they said nothing to anyone, since they were afraid.

So while they were told by the angel to go and tell the other disciples, at first they were too dumbfounded and dumbstruck to say anything. Wonder. Fear. Overwhelming astonishment overtook them. So they high-tailed it out of there.

Now, eventually they did tell Peter and the other disciples — who also did not believe them at first.

But they ran to tell them because of the news, the impossible news, that the Jesus they knew and loved and had followed was now alive, that death had lost its grip, and the completely unexpected had in fact happened. He has risen!

And this truth, this event at the center of human history, is at the very center of our faith, of our confession as Christians here and now: He has risen!

Think about what Paul says in Romans 10:8-9: This is the message of faith that we proclaim: If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

Unlike Joseph, the women who went to the tomb, and the other disciples, we live on the other side of the resurrection. The resurrection has always been a part of our understanding of who Jesus is. To believe in, to trust, and to follow Jesus, is to believe in a risen Savior.

So let me ask: Doesn’t that mean that we should see God as a God of the unexpected? As the God of joyful surprise? If we believe in Jesus, the risen Lord and Savior, then doesn’t that mean believing that God can also do the unexpected? That God can do something we didn’t see coming?

Or maybe more specifically: Isn’t our God still a God of resurrection, of new life, of hope, of surprising possibilities? Therefore, when it comes to God, shouldn’t we expect the unexpected? And expect it in our lives, in our churches, and in our community?

“If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead lives in you . . .”

Part of what I mean is that the same God that raised Jesus from the dead is also the same God we worship and trust today. God hasn’t stopped doing wondrous things. God hasn’t put a hold on being at work in our lives or in our churches or in our community.

In Romans 8:11 Paul writes this: if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead lives in you, then he who raised Christ from the dead will also bring your mortal bodies to life through his Spirit who lives in you.

Think about that for a moment. The very same Spirit — the person of the Holy Spirit — that raised Jesus to life is also living in followers of Jesus. The power at work in the resurrection is also present today. In us.

Now, on the one hand, it’s true that the primary sense in which this is true is that we have a sure and certain hope that we too will be raised with Christ. We too will experience resurrection when we put our hope in Christ.

But on the other hand, I think it means more. God’s Spirit, his power, is active in our lives in the present. He is active in our churches in the present. He is active in our communities in the present.

God doesn’t stop seeking to bring new life and fresh hope. And because we live on this side of the resurrection, we should have hope — and even a prayerful expectation — that he will.

That is, we’re not like Joseph and the women in our story. Jesus has already been raised. God has already displayed his power by raising him. For this reason, as God’s people, as followers of Jesus, we should expect the unexpected. We should pray for God to surprise us. We should pray for him to bring new life and fresh hope in ways we never saw coming.

One thing’s for sure: we should not live as though our risen Savior is still in that tomb.

So let me ask: what would it look like for us to be a people who expect the unexpected from God? What would it mean for us to anticipate that God may show up, may arrive in our midst, in a way that we hadn’t expected?

How would that change our prayers? How would that change our worship? How would that change our everyday lives? How should it change us?


The late pastor and author Eugene Peterson once wrote this: “It is not easy to convey a sense of wonder, let alone resurrection wonder, to another. It’s the very nature of wonder to catch us off guard, to circumvent expectations and assumptions. Wonder can’t be packaged, and it can’t be worked up. It requires some sense of being there and some sense of engagement.”

Are we actually open to what God might want to do? What if what God wants to do in us and among us falls outside our expectations and our comfort zones? Are we open to that? Perhaps we ought to pray that we would be.

Today we acknowledge, celebrate, and proclaim the resurrection of Jesus. And the resurrection of Jesus is the beginning of a new reality, a new world, a new life for those who accept the invitation to be a part of it.

For those of us who are followers of Jesus now, who believe and confess him as our risen Lord and Savior, we are participating in this reality now — though perhaps we need to be made more aware of it, to have our eyes opened more fully, to the reality of who Jesus is and what that means for our here and now.

Because there are people — people all around us — who never give Jesus a first, much less second, thought. For them, he might as well still be in that tomb.

And so like the women in our story, and later also the other disciples, are told to go and tell — to live out this resurrection story wherever they are — we too are to go and tell: with our words, with our actions, with our attitudes, with our lives.

Why? Because Jesus has risen. And because the same power that raised him now lives in those who confess his name and follow him.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s