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MEETING HIM WHEN YOU LEAST EXPECT IT

Who He Really Is

John 20:11-23
21st November 2004

The Risen Jesus Christ comes to people when they least expect it. In out study of John 20 last Sunday night we saw how on the day of the resurrection, Jesus came to people in different places, with different emotions and in none of whom there was faith and expectation. People go to all lengths to find God, but the experience of those in the scriptures is that God makes himself known when they least expected it.

Elijah, the important prophet in the Old Testament wanted to find God. So he went to the same mountain where Moses received his top ten list, and looked for God in a great wind, in an earthquake, and in fire. But surprisingly, God was not to be found in any of these places. Then in the sound of sheer silence the Lord’s voice was heard. A totally unexpected place. We are not told what the gentle sound was; maybe a still small voice, the Hebrew is literally the sound of fine silence. Whatever the sound or the lack thereof, it is not important. The contrast is clear. God is not always in the loud and showy events of history. Charlton Heston movies are not the only visions of God. Sometimes God is heard unexpectedly in the soft and subtle sounds of life, as we are gently drawn to listen, when we thought we were certainly alone. God reveals himself unexpectedly in the baby whose disease is cured, in the family spared from the destructive house fire, in the addict who kicks his habit through the power of prayer. So after the resurrection Jesus came to people in the unexpected places. That is how it was with his first coming. People were looking for the pomp of a mighty warrior or a proud prince, but God came to us in a baby born in Bethlehem.

God comes to ordinary women and men in the nitty-gritty areas of life. In the Old Testament, Samuel was the young carer for a frail old man. His work was simple: whenever the aging Eli needed anything — perhaps help getting dressed, going down the stairs, eating at meals, all Samuel had to do was be there and do whatever was needed. It was not exciting work, and it isn’t today for the tens of thousands of carers who do the same thing every day for frail old people. But it was while he was doing his caring work, God called him.

In the New Testament, Nathaniel studied the Torah in the shade of a fig tree when his brother Philip, with seemingly child-like faith said he had just met Jesus, the son of Joseph, from Nazareth. He could be the Messiah. Nathaniel replied that anyone who knew anything about Scripture should know that the Messiah would not come from Nazareth. Jerusalem perhaps, but how could anything good come from Nazareth? Then Jesus came to him and said, “I saw you under the fig tree.” Nathaniel then knew, and he got up and spent the rest of his life as a disciple of Jesus. Jesus comes to us in the illogical, the unexpected and even the absurd. But then we know. John’s Gospel records how Jesus came to a number of people on the day of the resurrection: first to Mary as she stood sadly in tears in the garden, then to ten of the disciples who met in fear behind locked doors, then to the same ten again but this time when doubting Thomas was present. Then the disciples cheerfully went back to their work with the boats and fishing nets, when the risen Jesus who had come to them in despair, in fear and in doubt, now came to them while they were at work.

He came to them where they were, when they needed Him and despite their own attitudes. So many people in Australia today live with tears and fears, and He comes to them. Despair, fear and doubt sap the life forces from people. But He comes and answers their despair, fear and doubt. Other people live cheerfully going about their work, with faith squeezed out of their lives. But they meet Jesus when they least expect it:

1. IN YOUR GARDEN WHEN YOU ARE TEARFUL.

People say, “You are closer to God in the garden than anywhere else on earth.” So they seek God among the roses, or on the hiking trail in the State Forrest. Or under the stars. But He comes to them unexpectedly in the midst of their ordinary lives, “the daily round, the common task.” God is with us in the messy stuff, like career changes, household moves, university exams, shifting patterns in family life and relationships. My mother was a young widow in her thirties with four small children and a pile of debts. My father suddenly died at 38 of alcoholism. She was always in tears. She was so alone. I was only 8 and did not realize that what she needed was someone to hug her. Boys do not hug their mothers. Then my younger brother Robbie, who had been born of Christmas day, became ill. Rheumatic fever enlarged his heart and he slowly and painfully began to die. My mother needed comfort. She needed God. Every Christmas Day for years after Robbie died, she would take flowers to the cemetery to the one grave where she laid the bodies of her husband and he son.

The best rose gardens in the country are in the Crematoria, fertilized by the ashes of long cherished people. Here people kneel and stand in tears remembering, hoping for comfort. Mary came to the tomb of Jesus in the garden in tears and grief. She needed comfort. Conscious of someone behind her she thought He was the gardener until he spoke one word, her name. “Mary”. And swinging round she dropped to her knees and the arms of comfort came around her in that most unexpected manner, in the most unexpected place, and in the midst of her tears. Jesus comes to us in the most unexpected places, even in the garden in tears.

2. IN YOUR HOUSE WHEN YOU ARE FEARFUL.

Many people are fearful even in their own homes. You might think people would have peace in their own homes, but I have visited thousands of homes over nearly fifty years of pastoral care, from little slums in Melbourne to some of the largest homes in Sydney. In many there are people living in fear. It may be induced by a doctor’s verdict that they have terminal cancer. The fear may be in a woman who thinks her husband is having an affair. The fear may be in a man who awaits an HIV Aids test. The fear may be in the parents who have discovered their daughter is addicted to drugs. The fear may be there because of immanent business failure that will take their home from them. But in each of these actual cases, I have seen Jesus Christ unexpectedly come into peoples’ hearts in spite of the fear.

On the day of the resurrection, Peter, James and John knew how careful they had to be. They were marked men. They had been recognised as friends of Jesus who had been crucified. They would be next. So they locked the doors in fear and in a darkened room discussed what to do next. Cringing from the world that had been so brutally final with their Master, they feared for their lives when through the doors came the immediately recognisable figure of Jesus — the same Jesus, yet different! All they knew was that their cringing fear had gone forever! Their whole lives changed, and instead of fear a new courage filled their hearts. Unexpectedly, Jesus Christ met them when they least expected it.

3. IN YOUR WORK WHEN YOU ARE CHEERFUL.

Going about whistling while you work! That is not where you expect to encounter the living Christ. But one hundred thousand did. This is an historic week that should be known to everyone of Welsh descent. Evan Roberts was a 26 year old uneducated blacksmith’s apprentice, who heard, on 30 Oct 1904, his pastor Evan Philips preached “Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify Thee.” John 17:1 Evan Roberts said: “What a meeting. The place was full of the influence of the Holy Spirit! I felt it coming over me like a breeze.” That evening, he left to hold prayer meetings in his home in Loughor, some 8 miles from Swansea. As he arrived, he told his mother, “There will be a great change in Loughor in less than a fortnight. We are going to have the greatest revival that Wales has ever seen”. The prayer meetings started on 31 Oct 1904 with 17 people.

Roberts asked those present to confess Jesus Christ as our Saviour. He quietly explained the promised revival. The next day, there were more people present and Roberts stressed the importance of being filled with the Holy Spirit. “The baptism of the Holy Spirit is the essence of revival, for revival comes from a knowledge of the Holy Spirit and the way of co-working with Him which enables Him to work in revival power.” From Loughor, the revival spread like wildfire. People would be blessed in the meetings, go home to hold their own meetings, and revival would break out there. Thus the revival covered the whole of Wales, even in places where preachers had never been. The effects of the revival were widespread. An estimated 100,000 converts were added to the church during the 2 years it lasted.

Hardened unbelievers, drunkards, thieves, gamblers were transformed. Miners now prayed together before commencing their shifts in the coal-mines. Pit-ponies, unused to kindness and clean language — stopped work until they got adjusted. Courts had few cases to try. Whole football and rugby teams got converted and fixtures were abandoned. Dance halls were deserted, the pubs were empty and not a few went out of business, but the prayer meetings were crowded. The atmosphere of the nation was changed. Not only did it become a spiritual nation, but people’s lives in the places they worked were transformed. Old Harry McEwan, a former Sergeant Major in the British Royal Marines, told me his Welsh solders gave up drinking and gambling. One old miner said, “The mines were transformed by the revival.

We would get up half an hour earlier to have prayer meetings. You’d get something like 200 miners underground, holding revival services. The miners and the bosses got on. It was a joy to go to work. Heaven came, underground.” Then, there was the affect on the crime rates. They went down. Drink was the besetting sin at the beginning of the twentieth century in Wales. When people were converted, they stopped getting drunk. There was less crime. One miner said, “There is no turning of water into wine. But in my house I have seen the turning of beer into clothes and food for my children and family who had gone without for years.” A doctor said, “I think it’s marvellous. What’s happening is everybody is paying back his or her debts. People are paying back all they owed me. This is wonderful.” The fire spread outside Wales. “The revival of 1904 effecting India, Korea and China, Japan and South Africa, sent a wave of awakening over Africa, Latin America and the South Sea’s.” Edwin Orr Welsh miners who emigrated to Australia carried on the revival in the mines of the Hunter and the Illawarra. Also the Pentecostal Revival of 1906 in Azusa Street Los Angeles was touched, for its leader corresponded with Evan Roberts. From Azusa St., came Pentecostal ministers that established churches in New Zealand and Australia, so even a new church like Hillsong, has its antecedents in the Welsh Revival.

He comes in unexpected places like the garden, the home, the place of work. Whether tearful, fearful or cheerful, we can meet Him in unexpected places. Maybe here, now, tonight, in this theatre! He meets us when you least expect it!

 

Wesley Mission, Sydney.