Steven Furtick - Surprise!
I don't know what it has been like for you in the last year as we've all been renegotiating our lives…not negotiating with God, but just trying to figure out where our lives are pointed. There may be a lot of you who are going through something that's very disorienting, and that may be very negative. There may be some of you who are going through something and it has actually been a positive change for you. One thing I know for all of us is that we don't always get the chance to brace for impact when changes come in our lives, positive or negative. That's what makes it really challenging.
So, I want everybody in this room to stand and, if you're able, right where you are, I want you to stand. I want to read my Scripture for today, because I'm so excited what God gave me for us to study together for our Bible lesson. The Scripture is Acts 3:1-16. Just be open. Be attentive and be respectful. God doesn't waste words, so really value what he gives you today. He might say one thing that changes everything. I'm just telling you. I've had that experience before. Sometimes it wasn't even when I was looking for some dramatic thing from God, and just, Whack! Thud! Kapow! like the comic books used to say.
Acts 3:1: "One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer—at three in the afternoon. Now a man who was lame from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts. When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, 'Look at us!' So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them. Then Peter said, 'Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.' Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man's feet and ankles became strong. He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God. When all the people saw him walking and praising God, they recognized him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him. While the man held on to Peter and John, all the people were astonished and came running to them in the place called Solomon's Colonnade. When Peter saw this, he said to them: 'Fellow Israelites, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this. By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus' name and the faith that comes through him that has completely healed him, as you can all see.'"
I'm going to tell you my title. It's going to be a controversial one, but I want you to shout it at the top of your lungs. It's only a one-word title. Look at somebody next to you and say, "Surprise"! Be seated. I was watching your reaction to that. I wish I could see you. Do you like surprises? Raise your hand in the chat if you like surprises. Raise your hand in the room if you like surprises. See, I like surprises…that I like. Is that fair enough? If you don't like to be surprised, just shoot your hand up real quick. Y'all raised it slowly because you don't like anything surprising, even the raising of your own hand. It's like your brain was managing the speed of your hand. You're like, "We're going to go up now in response to the preacher's question".
One of my best friends is named Craig Groeschel. He pastors a church in Oklahoma. Of course you know him. He has been here a million times. I look up to him so much. A few years ago, I thought he was too stressed out, so I went to go see him, but I wanted to surprise him. The reason I wanted to surprise him was because he is such a control freak. (I didn't ask his permission to share this illustration. I'll ask forgiveness afterward.) I knew if I said, "Can I come"? he'd go, "Oh, I've got this. I've got that. I've got the other". Blah, blah, blah. "I've got to preach for 75 million people out there in Russia," things like this that he does. You know, "I've got to drink a protein shake. I've got to bench-press 700 pounds". He's just so efficient. I was like, "I'll just go".
Jessica Mitchell on our staff reached out to the assistant who worked in his office and just shared that we were coming. "But don't tell him". So, I go on the airplane. It's something we used to do, for those of you who are watching this in the year 2021. Then when I got there, the gentleman who picked me up from the airport who was on his staff… I said, "Where are you going to sneak me in"? He goes, "Uh, well, uh, he kind of knows you're coming". I said, "Well, how does he know I'm coming"? They said, "Well, we told him. He doesn't like surprises". This is what I said in my head. This is the transcript that didn't make it text-to-speech thing. It was just a text in my head. I thought, "Well, dummy, you're not his friend. I'm his friend. I didn't come out here because he likes surprises. I came out here because he needed one, dummy". I didn't say that. I'm a man of God, and I don't say things like this. I have a filter for things like this.
It was funny to me how they thought that just because he didn't like surprises meant he didn't ever need surprises. I knew if I told him I was coming it would stress him out, so I knew the way to really support my friend in a stressful season was to show up and give him no choice about… What's he going to do? Kick me out when I show up at the door? So, when I saw him, I was angry. I said, "Surprise"! You know what I'm saying? The next time I went out, I didn't tell anybody I was coming. I got on the airplane and sent him a picture of the boarding pass, and I said, "Uber or are you picking me up at the airport"? I didn't ask because I know just because he doesn't like surprises doesn't mean he never needs surprises. When I say, "Turn in your Bible to Acts 3," like I just did a minute ago… "Our Scripture is Acts, chapter 3".
There are many people who listen to me preach who are like, "Okay. Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges… Whoa. I'm not seeing Ax. Ax. Ax. Ax. This is going to be a good one. Is this about a battle ax"? They never heard this story before, so they're probably going to get the most out of it. The people who will have a hard time hearing this with their heart are the people who know it in their head. Shout again, "Surprise"! We have an ongoing argument in my house because my wife is very jumpy. She only has two flaws. This is the only other flaw she has other than the one I told you about last week. She's so skittish. It angers me to no end, because I have to walk around my house like some sort of secret ninja. I have to sneak around my house so as not to scare her. I tell her when I walk into a room and she jumps… I go, "I live here! Am I allowed to live here"?
It's so uncomfortable having to sneak around like a burglar in the house that I bought. Love you, Holly Anna. But it's just weird. I live here! I live here, and I can't just move around and do what I want to do? The parallel is that a lot of times in church when God actually shows up, we kind of act like we didn't expect it to begin with. I'll show you this in the text from the teachers of the law and the Sadducees and the temple guard. When Peter did a miracle, they threw him in prison. That's what happens in this text. But before we get to that, let me back all the way up to the beginning, because there are several surprises in this passage that may not be apparent to the naked eye.
First of all, you might be surprised to see Peter and John hanging out together to begin with. You might be surprised that they would get along, because they are completely different. Our expectation is that God is going to bring people into our lives who are similar to us. That's called a mirror. You can buy that at Lowe's. You don't need people in your life who always reflect back at you your same exact preferences and prejudices, reinforcing your biases. God will bring people into your life he will use, and it will sometimes surprise you who he uses. So, Peter and John are somewhat surprising to see together, because Peter is boisterous and John is… I have a hard time with people like John. When I was reading the passage… You might not have noticed. He didn't do anything. I won't take time to read the whole thing again because I'm on a clock budget today with you, but I promise you. Read the whole thing. Well, he did one thing.
Okay. I don't want to overstate it. John did one thing. Verse 4: "Peter looked straight at him, as did John". The only part this guy had in the passage that I can see is to look at the man who's asking for the money. He didn't say, "Oh, Peter, don't worry about it. You left your wallet back at the… I've got my wallet here". No. He didn't grab the left hand while Peter grabbed the right hand. No. He didn't look at Peter and say, "You can do it, Peter. It's just like you saw Jesus do with the blind eyes and the woman with the issue of blood". No encouragement. No nothing. Just looked at the man Peter looked at. But I wonder if it was John's perspective Peter needed that was different than his that enabled him to be in position to experience God's power. You might be surprised who God uses in your life.
God has done some of the biggest things in my life through people I didn't like. No, I won't give you a list. I'm not going to name names, but some of the biggest things God did in my life he did through people I didn't even really enjoy hanging out with. The problem with us is… God wants to bring somebody into our lives, but if they don't exactly match the specifications of the friends we think we want or the people we think… Usually, the people we think we need God to send are the people who already think what we think. Why would God send something we already have plenty of? I was surprised Peter and John were still hanging out, because they were so competitive. They have a history, Peter and John. They were partners in a fishing business, and they became fishers of men with Jesus. They had some adventures together. They had history together. Peter and John not only ran to the tomb together…
Check this out how different their perspectives are and how God can give you a person who has a different perspective than you in order to help you see something you would have been tempted maybe to… You would have completely missed it. When they got to the tomb and it was empty, they were surprised. Why were they surprised? Well, I guess a dead man rising from the grave is surprising, but after all they'd seen him do… I know it's kind of obvious, but this is exactly what he said he would do. When the stone was rolled away, when they got there on Sunday, they were shocked by it. When the women came back, because the women had the ability to believe something the men couldn't believe… I don't know if that says anything about how God sometimes uses people… Whatever, whatever. The men were like the official disciples, but the women were the ones who went to the tomb.
When John got there, he got there first, but he didn't go in. When Peter got there, Peter went in, but he didn't believe. God used John who stood outside the tomb at a distance to believe. Peter was wired to believe it when he saw it. John stood… I have to give you an idea of the differences, why it's so surprising. John at the Last Supper when Jesus was saying, "One of you is going to betray me" leaned back on Jesus' chest and said nothing. Peter said, "Nuh-uh. Not me. Even if you die, I'm going to be right here. If the wheels fall off, I'll ride with you. It doesn't matter, Jesus. I'll cut off an ear. I'll cut off a head. I'll do anything". But let the cock crow three times and Peter is denying him like he never knew him. It's surprising that God would use two people who were so different and use them to do something so amazing as perform the first miracle since the birth of the church that we witness in the book of Acts.
Peter and John together. If you are more like John than Peter, that's okay. It will shock you some of the things God will use about your personality that you think mean he can't use you. I don't want to stay here long because it's really not my message, but that surprised me that it was Peter and John together, because they seem like polar opposites. Question: Are you open to who God wants to use in your life or do you have a wish list that looks more like something you should hand to Santa than something you should pray to Jesus? If they don't match the exact specifications of who you thought God would use, can you be open to surprise? Some of the best work I ever did in my life was with people that I didn't see it on the surface.
Here's what they're doing. They're going up to the temple at the time of prayer, 3:00 in the afternoon. You've got your 9:00 a.m. prayer, you've got your 12:00 noon prayer, you've got your 3:00 p.m. prayer, and they're going to the temple. That surprised me, because the temple was the old system. Now they're preaching the gospel. Jesus has ascended to heaven. The context of this is that the day of Pentecost has already come. Peter preaches this amazing confrontational sermon. It wouldn't have been a YouTube popular sermon. It wouldn't have gotten a lot of clicks or views or comments or anything like that, but it was very effective, because when he preached it, the Holy Spirit demonstrated with power. Now, all of a sudden, the Spirit's power was a demonstration of what Peter preached. God did an amazing work. Three thousand came into their number that day.
Now in Acts, chapter 3, as the church is growing, this sect that was considered almost like a cult of Judaism… These two leaders, two of the appointed designated leaders from the twelve disciples, are going up to the temple, which is where they used to worship, but they have a new understanding that Jesus, God's Messiah… It wasn't a new religion; it was the fulfillment of what God already started. (Stay with me. There's going to be a payoff to all this background I'm giving you.) When they go up to the temple at the time of prayer, they are doing what they always did. At this point in the text, we get a picture of sometimes how we are in between two things in our lives. There is the old thing we used to do. There is the old thing, the familiar thing, the nostalgic thing, the comforting thing, and then there is the new thing, which is true, but in between the two, sometimes you have to have a new belief in the same temple, a new belief in the same system.
They're going to temple like they always did. They're not only going to temple like they did once a week; they did this every day. In the Jewish culture, it would not be unusual to hit all three prayer services. You might have been there at 9:00 and 12:00 and 3:00. So, they are doing something that is very familiar to them when God gives them what we would call an interruption in their schedule. Let's watch this. Verse 2: "Now a man who was lame from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts".
Now let's kind of get in the middle of this situation. He's moving toward his spot by the gate. They're moving toward their spot in the temple. What's amazing about what happens next is that in order for the miracle to happen, both parties had to be open to a divine surprise. Are you open to divine surprises? Some of us aren't. In fact, I was imagining this modern day. I've preached this text a few times. I was imagining how it would look in 2021, and as I played it out, nobody got healed in the passage because everybody was looking at their phones on the way into church. The whole miracle just stopped right at verse 3. It was Peter and John going in, and the man was going to his spot, and nobody got anything because nobody was looking for anything except something that was inside something that wasn't even real. What we like about this, while I can do my weekly rant against the phones I'm addicted to as well…
While we do this, what we like about it is it's predictable. It's predictably miserable, but it gives us something to go to where we can know exactly "This is available to me". If I live my real life, I might be surprised. I don't like to be surprised unless I like the surprise, order the surprise, customize the surprise. This is the God we want. This is the Jesus we want. "God, let me customize the surprises I want you to send into my life today". What I realized about the temple was all of the people who were leading in the temple were surprised when God actually did something, but it was his house! I walk around and tell Holly, "This is my house too. Can I move from room to room and you not freak out"?
When something actually happened in the name of Jesus, they were surprised that God had the audacity to move in his own house. Can God move in his own house? Can the potter tell the clay what to be? Can God switch things around a little bit? Can God give you a blue one instead of a red one? I mean, can we start small? Some of us just don't like any surprises, so we structure God right out of our prayer life. Peter probably wouldn't have stopped to see the man if it hadn't been for quiet John. And the man definitely wouldn't have received his healing if he insisted on getting what he asked for in the first place.
Now here's why this matters to you: because right now you are in the process of… If I can put it this way, you are trying to decide whether to embrace what life has surprised you with or fight it, just like this man. He was paralyzed from birth.
Sidenote: you are not stuck with what you are born as. Jesus is bigger than your genetics.
Sidenote: the man in this passage was 40 years old.
What we're about to see happen is God is going to give this man something he gave up on a long time ago. I know what that feels like. The longer you live, the less surprisable you become. You start out when you're like… I don't know. I was 25 years old as a pastor, and I would see something and be like, "They would never betray me". I haven't said that in a while. I don't want to make it all negative. I would say something like, "Well, I could never change this habit," and then I did. I did! You won't believe this. I do two leg days a week now in the gym. Y'all give it up. That's a big deal. I like this man. I am 41 years old, and I have lived to see some things I never thought would happen, good and bad. I told Buck when he started training me when I was 28, "I don't do legs". Just like my mom has this thing. "I don't merge. I don't merge". She does this whole bit about it. You can ask her sometime. She has this traffic thing. "I don't merge". She will drive 17 hours to get to Walmart so she doesn't have to merge on 45. But it's a blessing. Small town.
The longer you go in life, you get things like, "Oh, that happens? People do that"? I missed an opportunity, y'all, and I'm kicking myself about it. I should have written my parenting book before my kids were born. I could have written such a good book. It could have been 733 pages about what to never do with a child and what to always do and what kinds of kids grow up God's way to flourish in the courts of our God. I should have written it before I found out that… Life will surprise you. People will sure enough surprise you, and you get traumatized. It's weird, because certain people on my phone gave me bad news once, so I'm scared to see their name at all anymore. "Oh no"! Can you relate to this at all?
This is a sermon for the people over age 10. Then you become less surprisable. You become more cynical. You become more jaded. You call it discerning, but that doesn't change what it is. You can put a Breyers label on a can of spinach, but it's still spinach. In this passage, you have to give a lot of credit to how much Peter has grown by this point in his ministry. Really, the credit goes to the Holy Spirit, because in Peter's own mind, he was probably the least surprisable of the disciples. He was surprising, because he would do the stupidest thing you could imagine and think he was doing something good for Jesus. Did you know Peter was actually shocked when Jesus went to the cross? Not only was he shocked when he rose from the dead; he was shocked when he died. What did you think he came for? He told you this over and over and over again.
One thing I was reading this week… I was studying all about Peter. I just went on this Peter binge this week. I was looking at all of the different things Peter said and did. He talked a lot, and sometimes when he would say something… One time Jesus took them up on the Mount of Transfiguration. You can look this up later. It's really cool. He went up there, and Jesus was talking to Moses and Elijah about his departure, because he was getting ready to go to Jerusalem where he would pay the price for our sin as the sacrificial Lamb of God that was slain before the foundation of the earth, the very purpose for which he came: to save his people from their sins. He's going to do that. Peter is sleepy, so he doesn't really listen, but as soon as he wakes up, he starts talking. It says something so weird in the Bible. It says Peter started saying, "Let's build a shelter up here for you, a shelter for Moses, a shelter for Elijah".
What was he trying to do? Keep Jesus from coming down that mountain and going to the cross. In a parenthetical insert, the author says, "He did not know what he was saying". In other words, he didn't know what he was talking about. For everybody who is arrogant enough to speak about what other people should do in challenges you have never faced, I just want to warn you with this. Life will surprise you. Okay? If you're a new pastor and you're saying, "Well, my church will never…" You don't know what you're talking about. If you're a new husband or a new wife… "In my marriage, we will never…" Write your marriage book while you are still engaged. Better yet, write it on the first… Life will surprise you, and it will take away all of your answers, and you won't be able to write your book.
Watch this. This is the part that freaked me out. The real challenge of faith is not to be more certain; it is to stay surprisable. Yes, that is a word in Merriam-Webster. You can cross-check me while I preach from the text. Stay surprisable. See, the thing about the man in the passage is he wasn't expecting to get healed. In fact, this is a unique miracle God chose to launch the church, because usually when Jesus healed people, they asked to be healed. Peter is so obnoxiously proactive he doesn't even ask the man, "Are you looking for a life change"? Because the moment he gets up and walks, he can't beg anymore. We don't think about this stuff in the Bible. The man jumps up and walks.
Now what? If he's going to do this miracle in a considerate way for all interested parties, he should say something like this: "Hey, man, about this time next week I'm going to come by. I have something for you. I have the name of Jesus. I served under him. You heard about him? Yeah, yeah. Rose from the dead. What he's going to do… Just like he got up out of the grave, you're going to get up out of here, but you want to line some stuff up before I come back. Who dropped you off today? Your friends? Well, they're not going to be able to take you home".
You have to remember Peter spent three years apprenticing under the Savior who specializes in surprises. Oh, you didn't know that. "No. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever". He's stable. That's right. You can count on him. He won't change. He won't leave you. But he's surprising. There's nothing in the text that indicates the disciples liked it, but they must have needed it, because he would put them in exact situations… I wonder who's there right now. He put them in exact situations where he could have given them some notice. Like, he's God. He knows. "When we get to the other side, there are going to be 5,000 men with all of their wives, with all of their children, and they're going to be hungry, not only for healing, but they're going to need some food.
So, boys, call the catering service. Let's pack some barbecue. Well, we're going over to a Jewish place. Okay. We're going to do some sandwiches". Whatever. You know the point. But Jesus didn't do any of that. Why? Why did he surprise them with a need? I have a better one. I was talking earlier about the woman at the well in Samaria. The reason that was on my mind… John, chapter 4. It said Jesus was talking to a woman, and his disciples went out to get food, and they were surprised to see him talking with a woman. But no one asked, "What do you want"? or "Why are you talking to her"? I learned this: what you are surprised by tells me a lot about what you have assumed.
I had a series of experiences. I was writing music with somebody, and they said something that at first I thought was a compliment, and after I thought about it, I was like, "I don't think that was a compliment". They said, "I'm so surprised you're so creative". I mean, I have an ego just like everybody else. I didn't like it when I thought about it later. First, all I heard was "You're so creative," but then when I thought about "I'm so surprised," I wanted to go back and ask him, but I didn't see him again. I don't know how to ask him. Maybe I'll see him again and ask him, "Why were you surprised? What about me made you think I wasn't creative? I've done stuff. I do stuff".
I don't know why they were surprised by that. "What did you think about me? Why would that surprise you"? I don't know. That was weird to me. This other guy… This is what we were talking about, and it was the word actually that got me. He said, "You're actually a nice guy". Just pray for people, you know. It was the word actually that got me. It was like, "Against all odds… I expected the exact opposite". He expected to get something from them, but his assumption was that what they had to offer was money. They went to church expecting to pray. Neither party was expecting a miracle. Can God surprise you or do you assume so much about him? Sometimes we're surprised God is actually a good God. We assumed what we heard about him growing up… I'm just being honest. In some pulpits, God turns out to be the pettiest character in the whole story.
So then to actually find out he is who he said he is…the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, the God of his covenant, abounding in love to a thousand generations…we can't imagine that. We're actually surprised to see the face of Christ, that he would talk with a woman who others would ostracize, because we assumed we knew what he was. What you're surprised by tells me a lot of what you've assumed to begin with. I wonder what you've assumed about you. By the time you're 40, you pretty much have it figured out what your limitations are. "This is my spot. This is my gig. This is my deal. This is what I do. This is what I have to do to feel good. This is what I have to do to get what I want. If it hasn't happened by now, it'll never happen". Notice a word in the text: instantly.
Acts 3:7: "Instantly the man's feet and ankles grew strong". You mean to tell me that what was four decades in the making that had crippled the man and limited him was undone instantly? Don't misunderstand what I'm about to tell you, because I'll balance it too, but hear this. It can change like that. I know you're scared to shout. See, we heard stuff like that before, and then we were surprised we still struggled with it later, especially if you came into a relationship with God that was kind of transactional. "Pray this prayer. Get Jesus to forgive you. You won't have to fry and burn with Hitler. You can go to heaven when you die".
Oh, y'all are so shocked. You're so churchy. So surprising. Oh. That's what we heard. We were surprised by struggle. So, you nail your sins to the cross… Like, I went to this youth camp one time. We actually wrote out our sins, which, for a teenager, you're doing really embarrassing stuff, so you have to use code. For a teenage boy, the most specific you can get is "Lust". That's level 10 specificity, so you just put that down. I'll come over here to the guy's side. I feel judged over here. But you nail it to the cross, and you're like, "Oh, I nailed my sin to the cross and the Lord forgave me". And you get home. Surprise! Here's lust, right where you left it. "But I nailed it to the cross"! Surprise! It got in the car. It came right home with you. It's in your blood, boy. "Expecting to get something from them". Peter said, "Silver and gold I don't have, but what I have I give you".
The Lord told me to tell you: you don't know your own strength. You don't know your own strength because you always stop at your weakness. You don't know your own strength. I saw Graham try to wrestle Holly the other day. She said, "Stop! You don't know your own strength. You're going to hurt me. You don't know how strong you are. You're going to hurt me". I walked in and said, "Boy, you want to wrestle somebody? Let's wrestle". I thought about myself. If I'm Peter and the guy asks me for money and I don't have it, I'm probably just going to say, "Silver and gold have I none. I'm going to church". It was what he said next that demonstrated the power of the gospel. He was surprised this guy cut him off at the temple gate. He didn't expect to see this man. God wasn't.
I mean, how strategic is God? Of all of the people going to church at 3:00 p.m. that day… First of all, maybe Peter missed the 12:00 p.m. so he'd be at the 3:00 p.m. Do you ever think about how God works things out in your life? You don't see these things. They seem coincidental, but they're really connected. This man is being carried at the time that they are carrying something. What they are carrying is going to keep him from ever having to be carried again, at the same time. Coincidence? God is most strategic when you are most surprised. They could have gone to church and prayed. That would have been exactly what they expected. They could have made it to the 3:00 p.m. service just like they expected, and I don't think it would have made Acts 3. Let's try it out. "Peter and John were going to the temple courts at the time of the prayer, 3:00 in the afternoon, and they had a good prayer".
For me, that doesn't hold the same interest as the story I read you. Is God doing in your life right now this intersection where you're completely caught off guard but he's not? If he had told Peter there was going to be a man at the gate, Peter would have grabbed his wallet. Then he wouldn't have gotten healed. Then Peter couldn't have used him to preach and say, "Jesus did this". Then 2,000 new converts wouldn't have been added to the church. Then Peter wouldn't have gotten thrown in prison with John because the authorities didn't know what to do with them, because they were surprised God actually moved in his own house. Then they wouldn't have had the faith and the boldness to pray together and bond together as the church. Then they wouldn't have gone into the persecution with the strength of knowing that God can do anything. God, at least in my life, and what I understand about the Spirit of God, is most strategic that this man is coming up to his spot at this time.
All of the things that had to happen to get them there at the same time. The man thought he was going to get some change, and he did. Just not dimes and quarters and nickels. I haven't studied this, but do they still have a change shortage? When the pandemic started, you couldn't get change in a restaurant or in a store. Church has had the same problem for years. It was weird. I went to Target, and I was waiting for my change. They were like, "Oh, we don't do change anymore". A lot of churches… I mean, the man comes there every day and nothing ever happens? You hear sermons and Bible studies and all that and no change? No change? Because we don't like to be surprised. We want God to change stuff without changing us, and that's not how he does it. Are you surprisable? I was praying, "God, what do I tell them"? He said, "Tell them 'Stay surprisable.'"
Keep some room in what you plan for your life, your kid's life, and for all the trajectory, where if God wants to do something a little different… This is the lesson Peter learned. By the time he has gotten to this point in his ministry, he's full of the Holy Spirit. He has seen the empty tomb. He has been restored when he left Jesus at the cross. He's no longer surprised at his own weakness, but he's confident in God's strength. He's no longer surprised by his own weakness, but he is confident in God's strength. That's a whole turkey word for somebody. Stop being so surprised by your weakness. It's there. It's always going to be there. You are but dust, the King James says. You are nothing more than a breath and a vapor, but God's Word is eternal, and he lives in you.
That's why Peter said, "Why are you looking at us? We didn't do it. We just accessed the power of one who could". Stay surprisable. Some of y'all… Do y'all want the marriage seminar part? Stop thinking you completely know what your wife would and wouldn't want to do. You're so boring. I'm telling you, man. I have been married a lot of years now. How many? It's coming up on 20. Yeah, 19 years. (Y'all are like, "You're in trouble. You didn't remember how many years you've been married". I'm up here saying a lot of stuff. She doesn't care.) When I tell you I've never loved being married to her more… I'm so glad I didn't confine her to the first version of what I thought I knew my wife was. The first thing she told me at the North Greenville cafeteria that I remember is "I would never want to marry a preacher". Surprise! "I'll never preach. I mean, I'll support you". She's good. Right? She surprises herself.
I caught her watching herself back preaching the other day. She said, "Oh, that's good". Have you surprised yourself lately? You have to surprise yourself. Not only surprise your spouse, like, "Oh, I gave you six flowers instead of four this year". Not only that stuff. Some of you need to surprise yourself. Just do something, even if it's small, that you didn't think you could do. "I'm a night person". Go to bed. "I'm not. I'm a morning person". Sleep in. You know what I mean? Like, "Oh, wild and crazy. I normally get it grilled. I'm going to get it fried. I'm full of surprises. I'm crazy". I like to preach different ways. I like to write different songs.
Somebody told me… One time I wrote a song that had some rock in it, and they were like, "Oh, black people wouldn't like that". The person who told me was white. How do you know what black people will like and not like? Like there's one person. Stop telling me what somebody else would not like or want, like you've figured out people. I told a man one time we couldn't have video campuses and the only way my preaching works is if people are in a room with me while I'm preaching. Surprise! One day I walked in and nobody was allowed to come to church a year ago, and all I had was the thing I didn't think I could do. Surprise! It worked! You might be surprised. That sounds really cool when Peter is saying it in verse 12 to the leaders. This man gets up and walks, and he's like, "Why are you surprised? Why does this surprise you"?
Well, come on, Peter. When you first met Jesus and you caught fish, it freaked you out so badly you fell at his feet and said, "Go away, Lord. I'm a sinful man". When he said, "I'm going to the cross," you said, "Never, Lord. That won't happen to you". When they actually arrested him, you were so surprised you went and cowered to a servant girl who said you were one of them. This is something that takes us a little time. You get conditioned to certain things. If you have enough of the negative or the dysfunctional things, you'll be surprised by the good. Now I think that's helpful sometimes. I think sometimes we ought to be more surprised and less entitled.
When Rick Bowling first gave me a bonus check… He said, "You're getting a Christmas bonus". It was the first church I worked at. I bear hugged him. The amount of money today… It was so small compared to what things are today it wouldn't register like that. I wouldn't hug him. I'd be like, "Thanks, man". What got me in the text… I just was reading this again. When you come to the Bible with fresh eyes, it's amazing. God is wanting to surprise you in your Bible, in your life, in your relationships. He's the God of surprises. He's talking to a woman at the well. He's doing amazing things, feeding multitudes with little meager fish, Captain D's supplies, Long John Silver's supplies. He's surprising, but sometimes we're not surprisable.
It said once the man was able to walk, he went with them in the temple courts (verse 8), walking, jumping, and praising God. It caused such a commotion… Everybody was amazed that this man they used to see sitting was now walking, jumping, and praising God, because he wasn't expecting to walk. There's a praise that comes out of somebody who hasn't learned yet to take God's gifts for granted. How many people went to the temple that day? Why weren't they jumping? Because when you've always been able to walk…
When you've always had provision, when you've always had a roof over your head, when you've always been well fed, when you've always been taken care of, you stop being surprised by it. One of my friends said you exchange appreciation for expectation. You start expecting people to do for you what they don't have to do for you. That is very dangerous. Every time I preach, I'm kind of surprised that God actually uses me, and I think that's good. I don't ever want to get to the point where I'm like, "Well, I mean, I know my Bible. Of course God used me. I'm anointed. I'm appointed". No. I want to stay surprised. Like, every once in a while, I just want to take a deep breath and be like, "Oh, that was a premium breath".
I know you can't walk around all the time just praising God for every breath and skipping through Walmart and things like this. I'm not talking about being weird. But there is a lesson in the fact that of everybody who walked into the temple that day, the one who had never walked before… His feet barely touched the ground. When you first got certain blessings from God, when you first started being used by God, when you first got on the Elevation staff, your feet barely touched the ground. Once in a while, you have to remember it's a blessing just to be able to walk. It's a blessing just to see another day. It's a blessing just to survive.
You will really understand this if you ever went through a season where you thought you wouldn't make it. If you haven't had that season, you won't understand, but if you had a season where you were living off alms, where you were begging for something to make it to the next day, but he got you up, snatched you up… His mighty hand, his right hand, his hand of authority. If the name of Jesus came to you in your begging place, you know what it means to jump. You know why we call the church Elevation. You know why we praise him. You know why we smile with all of our teeth, clothed, in our right mind, blessed to be in the number one more day. Stay amazed. Stay surprised. Jump every once in a while. You don't have to jump everywhere, but every once in a while, just jump. Just jump for joy. Every once in a while, just appreciate the fact that the lame will leap like a deer and that God did that for you.
When you've always been able to walk, you can't really appreciate it, because you stop being surprised. God wants to surprise you. He does this in strategic ways. God is never more strategic than when you are most surprised. Peter had no plan to preach that day, and he preached a sermon so powerful, because God planted somebody at the gate. Surprise! Later in his life, he gives us a perspective in 1 Peter 4. He says that just like God surprises you with great gifts and opportunities… He said, "Dear friends, don't be surprised at the fiery trial". This is 1 Peter. This is the same guy. He kind of has this thing. He's like, "Why are you surprised that God is healing this man? This is what Jesus came to do. You should know it more than anyone. You recognized the man, but you didn't recognize the Messiah, so you are surprised when God actually shows up because it does not look like what you put on your list". Are you there right now in your life?
He said, "Don't be surprised by the favor. Don't be surprised by the fire". Don't be surprised when God strengthens you. That's what he's there for. He gave you his Spirit. Don't be surprised when you struggle. And above all else, don't let your struggle keep you from accessing your strength. "Silver and gold I don't have, but what I have I give you". And his feet and ankles became strong. "Because," Peter said, "the same Jesus you killed, the author of life, God raised from the dead". I like to imagine sometimes that the Devil threw a big party after Jesus died and the sky grew black. "Tetelestai. It is finished". He thought Jesus gave up. I like to imagine what it was like Sunday morning when he was standing there with the keys of death, hell, and the grave. Surprise!
I want you to stand up right where you are, and I want you to throw your arms out just like this and tell the Devil, "Surprise! You hit me with your best shot. You formed every weapon against me. You thought you killed my confidence by having people reject me, but surprise! You thought I would die in the valley of the shadow of death. You thought I would curse God and die, but surprise! You thought it was going to be the end of me. You thought you picked my marriage apart. You thought you snatched my kid. You thought getting him on drugs would get me to stop praying for him, but surprise"! It's about to backfire, because the same man who sat there begging was the one who started a revival in Jerusalem. Surprise! You're stronger than you thought you were. Surprise! It didn't kill you. It made you better. Surprise! You weren't ready for it, but it's here. Surprise!
Into the hands of the God of surprises you have the opportunity now to place all of your uncertainty and all of your insecurity. God said, "I want to surprise you". Every once in a while, when I get overwhelmed by too many choices, I'll tell Holly, or if it's a leadership thing I'll tell one of my staff, "Just surprise me. I don't even want to choose. I don't know what to choose. There are too many options. Just surprise me". Holly will say, "Do you want this to eat or that to eat or the other to eat"? I'll be like, "Just surprise me". What a great prayer to pray to God for all of us who have been surprised by life. If Peter and John, the most unlikely Kobe and Shaq combination in gospel history, can be interrupted on their way to prayer by a paralytic man who asked for money but got healing to the point…
Remember this. In verse 11, after he jumped up and was healed, the Bible says the man held on to Peter and John. You're wondering, "What's the point of holding on to them if your feet and ankles are strong enough to hold yourself up"? It's because he wasn't ready for this. You weren't either, and God knows that. So, when you get to that place where you say, "This is something I never saw myself doing. This is something I never saw myself dealing with," just turn your palms to your Father like this and say, "Surprise me, God". I want you to walk in the confidence this week, like Peter learned to walk in. He didn't get it at first. We don't get it at first. But to know that when I'm most surprised, God is most strategic. Let's get this in our spirits. God said you need to have a surprisable spirit. You need to not get so cynical about things that you just write everything off and push everything away and, in the name of being guarded, you miss God. So say this: "God is most strategic when I am most surprised".
Lord, I'm praying today for those who are in a "Surprise me" season. Not that they would like it. Maybe we need it. I'm not asking for something bad to happen to me or anybody else. I like the good surprises, God, and I want all of those, but even for the thing I didn't ask you to do, like the man in this passage, help me to reach out and take hold of what you brought me. Surprise me, God. Surprise me with a facet of your goodness and provision I didn't see this week. Surprise me. I'm too overwhelmed. I don't know this way, that way. I don't know. We don't know anymore. The menu is too big. The world is too complicated. The inputs are too great. The noise is too loud. So surprise us. May we be filled with wonder and amazement. May people barely recognize us this time next year. May we leap for joy when we think about all of the things you've done for us. God, some of us have been sitting at a gate so long while you were trying to make us a gate for something you want to release. Surprise us. Use us. God, would you use us to surprise somebody else, somebody who wasn't expecting their day to be made? We come around this idea, "Why are you surprised by this"? We're not surprised by suffering, but we are expectant of glory. We are resurrection people. We give you praise in this moment. In Jesus' name, amen.