We all love a good surprise: a twenty dollar bill discovered in the pocket of a long-unused item of clothing, an unexpected gift of something we truly need, a raise in pay, a sunny day when the forecast is for rain. When our dreams become reality and we must reorient ourselves to the happy truth—that’s a good surprise.
But equally possible are the bad surprises: unexpected expenses, sudden inconveniences, and unannounced visits of one’s least favourite relatives; vehicles needing repairs, bodies needing repairs and relationships needing repairs. When our nightmares become reality and we must adjust to the unhappy situation—those are bad surprises.
As Matthew narrates the second chapter of his biography of the life of Jesus, something becomes exceedingly clear: Jesus’ life was neither an accident, a whim, nor a surprise. God had been planning this event for a very long time.
To Mary and Joseph, though, the earthly parents who were tasked with raising Jesus like any other child, it was a rocky beginning. Everything seemed to be going wrong. Having to travel during Mary’s final days of pregnancy due to a governmental decree of census-taking had forced the couple to be in the unlikely town of Bethlehem when the baby Jesus was born—far from the comforts of home and family. Not long after, the young trio was constrained to flee the country due to the sweeping infanticide decreed by Herod the Great, tetrarch of Galilee. Again, Mary and Joseph must have been troubled over the surprising circumstances that seemed to war against a quiet, peaceful existence. Finally, as recorded in the second chapter of the gospel of Matthew, the young couple and baby detoured from returning to Judea because of a third dictator, and chose instead the small town of Nazareth in which to settle. It had been a tumultuous beginning for the infant Jesus. Life had been full of menacing surprises already. Mary and Joseph must have wondered, ‘where is God in the midst of all this?’
But Matthew, like any good biographer, had time to dig deeper and discover some interesting information that fills in a few more details for us—details that Mary and Joseph may not have noticed initially.
“But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,” Matthew quotes the prophet Micah of the 8th century B.C., “ are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.” The all-knowing God had seen the future events that would cause His Son’s birth to occur in Bethlehem, and had left the clue for generations to ponder.
“Out of Egypt,” Matthew proceeds to quote Hosea, another ancient prophet and mouthpiece of God, “I called my son.” Again, surprising circumstances in Mary, Joseph and Jesus’ life, like their escape from Herod, refugee status in Egypt, and return to Israel, were no surprise to God; they were seen, contemplated, and used by God to realize purposes that only God knew were necessary.
Matthew then gives us the third and final evidence for his premise that nothing is a surprise to the All-knowing One: Matthew tells us the prophet Isaiah, speaking of the awaited Messiah, observes, “He will be called a Nazarene.”
The truth suggested by this evidence is that God is not surprised by either the worst or the best of events that come into people’s lives. He sees all of time in His ever-present state. Matthew’s disclosures lead us to understand something of great importance, of great relevance for our own lives. Just as the Father was not surprised by difficult circumstances that would threaten His own incarnate Son from the earliest days of His journey on earth as a human, He is not surprised by events that surprise us. He knows the difficult situations this troubled world will bring upon us at times. He sees the sorrows and tragedies we face. And in His great wisdom, He chooses to use those difficulties to make us new people, stronger people; people with character traits more like His Son Jesus.
Listen to what a later Biblical writer explains, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the first-born among many brothers” (Romans 8:28).
The lesson for us is clear: Since nothing surprises God, we can rest in knowing there are no ‘worst case scenarios’ for us. Our purpose is simply to love Him and entrust ourselves to Him in every situation, and leave the good outcomes to Him. Ever-present with us, God will be faithful to give us the strength to face life’s surprises with courage and peace. He did it for Jesus and He will do it for us. Count on it.
(Photo Credit: [[File:UAE Beware of road surprises – Flickr – woody1778a.jpg|thumb|UAE Beware of road surprises – Flickr – woody1778a]])