THE GOD WHO SHOWS UP UNEXPECTEDLY
By Jacob Loh
..... Jesus himself came up and walked along with them (Luke 24:15).
It is normal for us to call up someone before we visit them, just to make sure the person is at home.
However, during the pandemic lockdown, many people are working and staying at home. So, sometimes, I decide to drop by their homes without a whatsapp warning or phone call just to pass them food or dessert (tong suey). I show up. At their house. Standing outside their gates. A surprise visit!
There are times when Jesus comes to us when we invite him. And there are times when He just shows up.
We may know that at the end of the long walk to Emmaus, Jesus entered the home of the disciples. Why? Because they strongly urged the stranger to stay the night with them. The disciples invited Jesus.
but at the beginning of the walk to Emmaus, Jesus himself showed up, somewhere outside Jerusalem. Unannounced. And suddenly, the pair of disciples had become a traveling trio. How wonderful!
(And how amazing that at this point, they had no idea that this man with a masked identity would turn out to be the risen Christ who walks and eats with them.)
Dear friends, Jesus reaches out to us when we least expect of him.
Today, Jesus takes the initiative to reach out to us in our moment of need. He is Immanuel: God-with-us. In our helpless situation, do not be surprised that God shows up.
Eugene Peterson, writing in The Message, describes that Jesus moves into our neighbourhood, maybe becoming our next-door neighbour, to be near us, to be with us in our life's struggles. Jesus makes the first move.
The Bible tells us that the sovereign God makes the first move in our story of salvation. Grace shows up in unexpected moments and situations in our lives. Grace shows up right from the beginning in surprising manner.
"Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ (what pleasure he took in planning this!). He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift by the hand of his beloved Son", writes the apostle Paul in the letter to the Ephesians (1:5,6), paraphrased in The Message.
In the Emmaus account, Jesus did not wait for the disciples to be ready before showing up. While the pair of disciples were still buried in a grave of unbelief and doubt and in a state of confusion, the Risen One took the initiative to break them free of darkness.
While we were still sinners, Christ died for us, wrote the apostle Paul in Romans 5:8. This is a key lesson in the gospel of grace. How ready are we to receive this grace?
When I served in pastoral ministry, I had the joy of baptising infants. How much faith did the cheerful or crying babies have? Were they able to confess their sins? The babies helped me to see that God did not wait us to become perfectly formed before he poured his amazing grace upon us.
Dear friends, Jesus does not wait for us to sort out the mess and sins in our lives before he shows up in surprising ways. In fact, the apostle Paul observed that "The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly .... the worst of sinners".
That's the key point in Jesus' mission: He is the First Mover. Luke stresses that the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost (see Luke 19:10). Jesus took the initiative to call a tax collector to follow him (see Luke 5). He took the initiative, as the Good Shepherd to find every single lost sheep (see Luke 15), and he took the initiative to prepare a breakfast for a failed disciple and eventually restore him (see John 21).
Today we love because God first loved us (1 John 4:19). God makes the first move.
In our daily life of discipleship, we can experience the God who shows up unexpectedly. We may not always be ready to live our lives to the fullest for God but we can all experience grace showing up in our lives - transforming us to live a fruitful life for God.
Let's pause and reflect with thanksgiving on the words of this 12th- century prayer written by Guigo, The Carthusian monk who guided people on how to experience God by contemplating Scripture (through Lectio Divina):
"Lord, how much juice you can squeeze from a single grape.
How much water you can draw from a single well.
How great a fire you can kindle from a tiny spark.
How great a tree you can grow from a tiny seed.
My soul is so dry that by itself it cannot pray;
Yet you can squeeze from it the juice of a thousand prayers.
My soul is so parched that by itself it cannot love;
Yet you can draw from it boundless love for you and for my neighbour.
My soul is so cold that by itself it has no joy;
Yet you can light the fire of heavenly joy within me.
My soul is so feeble that by itself it has no faith;
Yet by your power my faith grows to a great height".
God keeps on showing up unexpectedly. For example, in the life of John Newton.
Captain Newton described how he felt a palpable sense of the Divine during his "business trips" as a slave trader: a sense of being followed, of being watched. Even as he pursued slaves, he could not shake off the feeling that it was he who was being pursued. There steady footsteps of someone, always out of eyesight, who kept on whispering. "Something relentless," John Newton mumbled to himself. "Something is pursuing us all."
Lord Jesus, you showed up unexpectedly to walk with the disciples on the Emmaus road. Thank you for still showing up in our lives unexpectedly. You are always the one making the first move - and this is the message of the gospel of grace.
May we realise no one is beyond your amazing reach.
Lord, grace may be an impersonal word until it happens to us.
Today, we are grateful that your grace shows up unexpectedly in our lives and captures our hearts.
Amazing grace: the sweetest sound on earth.