The God of Surprises – John 20:1-18 (Mar 30-31)

God of Surprises – PDF
God of Surprises – Word Doc

Easter was such a surprise for everyone. No one expected Jesus to come back alive after he had been tortured and killed on a cross. Nowhere in the ancient world was there a story of someone coming back from the dead. Death was a permanent problem for which the ancient world had no solution. Jesus coming back in bodily form from the dead was a total surprise. Another surprise was who the first witnesses were to the resurrection – they were mostly women. In the first century, a society who did not see women as equal to men, this was quite a shock. If you wanted to prove the truth of your story, you wouldn’t use women witnesses! The fact that women were the first eyewitnesses of Jesus’ resurrection was often used to discredit Christianity. It is also surprising how the first witnesses came to believe. John was convinced by the way the cloths appeared in the tomb – even before he saw the risen Christ! Mary was convinced by a supernatural encounter. Jesus reaches us in unique ways; he knows us personally. He called Mary by name and he will call each of us by our name.

In 5 minutes or less, briefly give a synopsis of this week’s sermon. What insight, principle, or observation from this weekend’s message did you find to be most helpful, eye-opening, or troubling? Explain.

These questions can be used as ice-breakers in the beginning OR interwoven between the questions below to draw the group into the discussion.
• What are one or two things from this weekend’s sermon that really stood out to you?
• Did you fast from something for Lent? If so, what was the effect of your fast? Did you feel God speaking anything in particular to you? What was your experience of this Holy Week?

(much of this study was taken from John Stott’s devotional on Romans)
The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Rome to give them a clear understanding of the good news that he was preaching about Jesus. The letter is really the first statement written of Christian theology. Paul largely focuses on the freedom we have in Christ. He wrote to a church made up of Jews and Gentiles with Gentiles in the majority – there was considerable conflict between these two groups with Jews proud of their favored status and Gentiles proud of their freedom from the law. Paul writes to instruct them how to live together as a community. In this chapter, after Paul gives an overwhelming picture of human sinfulness, he talks about God’s peace.

Read Romans 5:1-11
5 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
9 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10 For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! 11 Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

• VV. 1-2 (observation) How do we get peace with God? (Through faith in Jesus, we can receive God’s grace, his forgiveness and mercy, which take away guilt and shame. With freedom from guilt and shame, we can experience peace)

• VV. 3-5 (observation) Why does Paul say we can rejoice in our suffering? (suffering eventually leads to hope as God changes us.)

• (interpretation) Why do you think Paul joins peace with God and hope with suffering? (peace and hope don’t come in full right now, we “hope in the glory of God” in other words, we have hope for our future – that God will be with us and we will be like him – but we do not experience that fully now. Suffering is one way God works in us to change us and make us like him and give us a hope of our future new selves)

• (application) These verses begin with suffering and end with hope with several stages in between. When have you seen this sequence in your own life or in others?

• VV. 6-8 (observation) What was the “right time” for Christ to die?

• (interpretation) How is God’s love demonstrated by the timing of his death? (we were not able to contribute in any way to his action – we were “powerless” so we know that this act of love was all on God’s side)

• (application) What does this say about the unconditional nature of God’s love for us?

• VV. 9-11 What have we been justified by? (v. 9 his blood) (interpretation) How are we “saved through his life” (this implies a process that all Christians go through of sanctification. This process is separate from justification that happened once with Jesus’ death on the cross).

• (application) These are two sides of the same coin, justification and sanctification. As Rich often says, it is “both/and” – we are both justified by the blood of Christ as we have faith and we are sanctified as we live our lives with Christ. Does this make sense to you? It is one of the more difficult tenants of the Christian faith. If you feel wiling, share how you understand the difference between the two and how you feel it affects your life as a follower of Jesus.

Below you’ll see some options for ministry time with your group. We always encourage you to reserve time in your group to pray for one another and wait on the Holy Spirit.

• (Option One) Take a few minutes to share that we believe God speaks today and can speak to us in pictures or words or verses or crossing thoughts and many other ways. Take a few minutes to wait in silence to allow God to speak and then open it up and ask the group if anyone things they heard something from God that they would like to share with the group. After sharing, break into groups of 2-3 and pray for each other in response to the words, or just in whatever way each individual needs.

This activity taken from Journey with Jesus by Larry Warner

• (Option Two) David Benner says in his book The Gift of Being Yourself: “To know God demands that we be willing to be touched by Divine love. To be touched by God’s love is to be forever changed. To surrender to God’s love is to find our soul’s home—the place and identity for which we yearn in every cell of our being.”

Do you feel you’ve been touched by God’s love? Take some time to wait on God in silence (depending on the group maybe 15-25 minutes will be good) as a large group or broken into smaller groups of 4-5. If you are meeting in smaller groups, have someone volunteer to lead the time. Begin by meditating on God’s demonstration of his love by reading aloud Rom 5:6-8. Wait in silence for 5-10 minutes. Then ask these questions, waiting for 5-10 minutes after each one to allow people to reflect. You may want to provide paper so people can write down their thoughts.

o What feelings are stirred within you as you reflect on the truth that God choose to demonstrate his love to you while you were still a sinner?
o What does this tell you about God’s ability to love you and God’s desire to love you no matter what?

Take some time to share as a group if people are willing and able. Were there any insights or reflections you’d like to share with the group from this time of meditation?