Do you like surprises? That is not a yes or no question for any of us. It depends on the surprise. Some surprises are wonderful. Some surprises are horrible. If a surprise brings a person joy and delight, he or she loves the surprise. If a surprise brings a person sadness and shock, he or she hates the surprise.

Surprises use the unexpected. If you expect it, it cannot be a surprise. "Surprise" is an important tactic in modern warfare. When your objective is to destroy an enemy in modern warfare, you value the "element of surprise." So in modern warfare we use the "surprise attack." What is the "element of surprise"? What is the "surprise attack"? It is the element of astonishing. It is to attack when the enemy is unaware of danger.

We have been blessed to live through years of peace and times of peace. In times of peace we do not need wartime words. So we gave some of those words peaceable meanings. We developed "pleasant surprises." "Pleasant surprises" have the same objective of astonishing and catching unaware, but the result is wonderful, not destructive.

As an example, consider the "surprise birthday party." That astounding, unexpected event is wonderful--unless it is your fiftieth birthday! The first surprise birthday party I attended after moving to Fort Smith was for Jack Lowry. Boy, did his friends put the word surprise in that party! It was really a surprise! The party occurred at midnight at the close of his birthday. A son called and told him he had car trouble. He sat up and came outside. The party began with a candle light vigil on his lawn. Oh, the joys of Jack's surprise birthday party! Maybe surprise birthday parties and war do have something in common.

  1. I want you to note something stated very obviously by Jesus.
    1. When talking about the judgment, Jesus deliberately combined the concept of surprise and the concept of eternal accountability.
      1. And your immediate response is, "Of course he did! We clearly understand that the judgment will be an occasion of huge surprise for a lot of people!"
      2. What do you mean by that statement?
        1. "Well, we will not be surprised because we know what to expect and are prepared."
        2. "Many people think they know what to expect and think they are prepared."
        3. "But they do not know and are not prepared, and they are in for a huge shock."
        4. Consider some statements Jesus made about judgment that may challenge your conclusion.
    2. Likely Jesus' most familiar statement about the judgment is found in Matthew 25:31-46 when he discussed the final gathering of the nations.
      1. Jesus talked about the scene at the judgment and declared there would be a great separation of peoples or nations.
      2. I call two obvious teachings to your attention.
        1. First, people did not know their sentence until the Lord declared it.
          1. Those on his right were welcomed to the inheritance God prepared for them from the moment the world began.
            1. He said they were receiving this inheritance because they were kind, helpful, and thoughtful to him in times of need.
            2. And they were surprised. And in their amazement they asked, "When did we do any of these things for you?"
            3. And he said, "When you did it to the least of my brothers, you did it for me."
          2. In the same manner, those on the left were condemned and rejected because they ignored him in his need.
            1. And they were surprised. They said they never neglected him.
            2. But he said they neglected him when they neglected the least.
        2. Second, carefully note that everyone was surprised.
          1. Those receiving the inheritance were surprised.
          2. Those condemned were surprised.
    3. I call to your attention a second statement Jesus made about the judgment in Matthew 7:21-23.
      1. Jesus said when that day comes, he will not know all the people who call him Lord.
      2. In judgment, there will be people who say to him, "We did Jesus' things in Jesus' name."
        1. "We belong to you! We can prove it!"
        2. "You prophesied; we prophesied."
        3. "You cast out demons; we cast out demons."
        4. "You did miracles; we did miracles."
      3. "We not only did the things you did, but we also did those things by your authority."
        1. "We did them in your name."
        2. "We gave you credit."
      4. Jesus will respond by saying, "I never have known you. Get away from me. Your lives were dedicated to lawlessness; they were not dedicated to me."
      5. They expected acceptance; they received rejection; and they were surprised.
    4. I call to your attention a third statement Jesus made about the judgment in Matthew 12:38-42.
      1. Some significant Jewish religious leaders, the scribes and Pharisees, said, "Show us some evidence that what you are saying comes from God."
        1. Jesus said, "Your desire for evidence comes from evil motives, not godly motives."
        2. "You have evidence from events in scripture; I will not give you any more."
        3. "The people of Nineveh, Assyria, will tell you in the judgment, 'We repented, and Jonah did not care about us. Jesus cared about you.'"
        4. "The Queen of the South will tell you in judgment, 'I traveled a long way to hear Solomon's wisdom, and you had someone greater than Solomon to hear.'"
      2. When people hear these things in judgment, can you see the shock, the amazement, the surprise?
    5. I call your attention to a fourth statement Jesus made about the judgment in Luke 10:10-14.
      1. This statement was made in Jesus' charge to seventy men he sent out in pairs to prepare cities and towns for his coming visits.
      2. He gave these men specific instructions about what to do if a town or city rejected them.
      3. Then Jesus made some amazing statements.
        1. He named some cities which were the symbols of evil, wicked places like Sodom, Tyre, and Sidon.
        2. To Jesus the Jewish communities of Chorizin and Bethsaida symbolized faithlessness (Matthew 11:20-22).
          1. He performed miracles in those cities in an effort to move them to repent.
          2. But they refused to repent.
        3. In the judgment the wicked cities will not receive as much harshness as cities that had great opportunity but no faith.
      4. Can you imagine their shock, their surprise?

  2. We will not and cannot grasp the significance of Jesus' judgment statements unless we understand Jesus' audiences.
    1. Jesus spoke to Jewish people who considered themselves the upstanding people of God.
      1. Jesus seemed to have made the Matthew 25 statement about the judgment on the mount of Olives while teaching his disciples (Matthew 24:3).
      2. Jesus' Matthew 7 statement is a part of the sermon on the mount spoken to a large crowd of disciples.
      3. Jesus' Matthew 12 statement was made to questioning scribes and Pharisees.
      4. Jesus' Luke 10 statement was made to seventy disciples as Jesus prepared to send them out in pairs.
    2. Jesus made his judgment statements about people who were certain they had the advantage in the judgment.
      1. They were God's people.
      2. God had chosen them.
      3. They had scripture and the prophets.
      4. They knew the right way to worship God.
      5. According to them, they had the right credentials for the judgment.
    3. The parallel is frightening. Look at the way we think about ourselves.
      1. We are God's people.
      2. We are the church that Christ built.
      3. We understand the intent and meaning of scripture.
      4. We understand the right way to worship God.
      5. According to us, we have the right credentials.

  3. Regardless of what happens to each of us in judgment--good or bad--Jesus said we will be surprised.
    1. If we are among the saved, the reasons we are accepted will surprise us.
    2. If we are among the lost, the reasons we are rejected will surprise us.
    3. There may be those who shout at us, "If your opportunities had been our opportunities, we would not be among the rejected!"
    4. Perhaps the condemnation of some of us will be harsher than people we consider wicked.

  4. Jesus stressed that both he and God place enormous importance on doing good in the way we treat other people.
    1. Our conditioned, gut response to that statement is: "No, no, no! God's emphasis is on what you know, what you do in worship, on having the right theology. Being godly is not about doing good to people, but about being obedient to the commandments we declare to be important."
      1. Think with me a moment.
      2. No one on earth has ever known as much about God as Jesus did.
      3. No one on earth has ever understood God as completely as Jesus did.
      4. No one on earth has ever grasped God's will as perfectly as Jesus did.
      5. No one on earth has had exactly God's correct balance in life as Jesus did.
      6. In any way, in any subject, in any consideration, the God-Jesus relationship was superior than any other God-human relationship.
      7. Jesus truly understood what God is about and what God wants.
    2. Stated in another way, as a human, Jesus reflected God perfectly.
      1. In his attitudes, he perfectly reflected God.
      2. In his spirit, he perfectly reflected God.
      3. In his priorities, he perfectly reflected God.
      4. In his values, he perfectly reflected God.
      5. In his focus and his deeds, he perfectly reflected God.
    3. When Peter discussed Jesus with Cornelius, Peter made this statement:
      Acts 10:38 You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.

You have influence every day of your life in every relationship of your life. Jesus wants you to be light in a world of darkness and salt in a world that is decaying. Use your influence! Be like Jesus! Each day of your life, do good! Do good to your family! Do good to your neighbors! Do good to the people you go to school with! Do good to the people you work with! It is belonging to God through Jesus Christ to do good that will cause you to stand in judgment.

In judgment, it will surprise you when you realize how important doing good to "the least of these" is to God and Jesus Christ. Why? When you do good to "the least of people" you do good to Jesus. And God pays special attention to how you treat his son.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 7 October 2001

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