April 13, 2008

"Startled By Jesus"

(Luke 24:36-49)

Rev. Billy D. Strayhorn


Years ago I read the supposedly true account of a judge in Yugoslavia who was electrocuted when he reached up to turn on the light while standing in the bathtub. His wife found his body sprawled on the bathroom floor. He was pronounced dead and was placed in a room under a crypt in the town cemetery for twenty-four hours before burial.

However, in the middle of the night, the judge came to, realized where he was, and rushed over to alert the guard. Startled, the guard promptly ran off, terrified. Fortunately for the judge, the guard returned with a friend, and they released the newly-revived judge.

The judge's first thought was to phone his wife and reassure her. He got no farther than, "Honey... it's me," when, startled, his wife screamed and fainted. So, the judge then went to the houses of several friends; they were all startled and was sure he was a ghost. In a last desperate measure, he contacted a friend in another city who had not heard of his death. This person, this witness, was able to convince his family and friends that the judge was truly not dead but alive. Literally raised from the dead. (1)

Can you imagine how the guard felt when the body started hollering. Or the judge's wife and friends. Startled doesn't really describe it but that's the word that was used. That's the same word that is used to describe how the disciples reacted when Jesus suddenly appeared in their midst in the Upper Room. Scripture says, [37] "They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost."

Let's look at the whole passage to see what happened and what brought this on. It's found in: Luke 24:36-49 (NRSV)

[36] While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you."

[37] They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost.

[38] He said to them, "Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?

[39] Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have."

[40] And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.

[41] While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, "Have you anything here to eat?"

[42] They gave him a piece of broiled fish,

[43] and he took it and ate in their presence.

[44] Then he said to them, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you--that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled."

[45] Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures,

[46] and he said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day,

[47] and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.

[48] You are witnesses of these things.

[49] And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high."

The disciples were startled by Jesus' sudden appearance in the Upper Room where they were gathered out of both grief and fear for their own safety. The passage says, [37] "They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost." I guess that would make Jesus a "holy terror." Sorry, I couldn't resist, we've had the grandkids for the last couple of days and it just sort of slipped out.

Jesus suddenly appeared in the midst of the disciples. Like some magician's illusion in reverse, one minute He wasn't there, then "Presto Change-o," the next minute He was. No wonder it startled the disciples. But then, I think they should have been used to that kind of behavior out of Jesus because all through his earthly ministry Jesus was constantly startling everybody around him. He startled them with His teaching, with His miracles, with the way He challenged authority. Jesus continually startled everyone around Him in some way or other, just as He continues to constantly startle us today.


A. When you really look at the Good News, when you look at the Bible; when you look at Jesus what you find is startling.

It's startling that Jesus is Son of God. It's startling because He was born in a stable to lowly parents, an unwed mother and a carpenter, who were both given to heavenly dreams of angels and important missions. It's startling that shortly after the birth Mary and Joseph had to flee the country because the king was so threatened by this baby. What kind of sick paranoia do you have to be filled with to be so afraid of a newborn baby.

B. It think it's startling that we didn't hear anything more of this baby Jesus until He was twelve years old and got left behind at the Temple. What happened in those twelve years. All we know is that they came back to Nazareth. And then we're startled because we don't hear from Jesus again until He's somewhere between 27 and 30, depending on whose timeline you use, and He decides to go into ministry.

It's startling that the very first act of Jesus' ministry was to be baptized. It's startling because, if Jesus is who John proclaims He is, "the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world;" if Jesus is who we claim He is, the sinless Son of God, then He didn't need to be baptized. But Jesus startles us by surrendering Himself to God through baptism just like you and me.

C. It's startling that after His baptism, Jesus is driven or lead into the desert where He is tempted for 40 days. The only witness we have of that is Jesus. But obviously it was something He shared with His disciples. They probably didn't understand it at the time but it's startling how significant it is for us. Jesus did not give into temptation but instead, triumphed over it. And what's so startling is that He promised to help us do the same if we simply call upon Him.

D. It's startling that Jesus taught in such a way that He not only captured the hearts and minds of the people who listened but that he was seen as a rebel. And such a rebel that the religious establishment was so threatened by Him that they conspired to have Him killed by the cruelest means possible, crucifixion. And what makes it even more startling is that Jesus didn't teach anything that wasn't already a part of the faith. Instead, He simply brought it to fulfillment. It's startling to me that they didn't get it. It went completely over there heads and bounced off their hearts.

E. It's startling that Jesus knowingly and willingly went to the cross. He willingly gave himself for me and for you . It's startling that Jesus willingly gave Himself to be crucified so we could know the truth of His message of forgiveness and reconciliation with God; So, that we could experience the forgiveness of our sins.

It's startling that in the midst of the pain of His crucifixion, while nailed to the cross, Jesus was still able to look with compassion upon those who judged Him, beat Him and crucified Him. The most startling words we may ever hear are those from the cross, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." The depth of His love for us is truly startling.

F. It's startling that on the third day the women found the tomb empty, not because the body had been stolen but because Jesus had been raised from the dead. He gave His life to free us from the guilt of sin. And He overcame death to give us life.


A. What may be the most startling thing of all, is that Jesus left His startling message for us, the startled and terrified, to carry to the rest of the world. We're called to live startling lives of faith.

That kind of responsibility truly does startle us and terrifies the bejeebers out of most of us. Why, because of the startling the demands Jesus makes on us. For as we walk with our Savior, as we get closer to Him, we're startled to find out that He's not just a nice guy who offers forgiveness and then we go on our way never changing anything we do.

We're startled to discover that Jesus isn't some magic grace and forgiveness vending machine where we put in our quarter or our tithe and make our selection. We're constantly startled because Jesus invites us to live a startling life with Him. Jesus expects us to live like him. Jesus expects us to love God like He does, with all of our heart soul mind and strength and to love our neighbors as our selves.

B. Another thing that is startling is our relationship with Jesus should make a difference in how we live. How we talk to each other. How ready we are to forgive. How well we study for school. How much we show respect for our teachers. How we interact with our children. How we interact with our parents. How we treat strangers. How we work for our employer. And when we don't live that difference, it's startling how much damage it can do.

The philosopher Soren Kierkegaard once told a story about a circus that caught fire. The flames from the circus fire spread to the fields surrounding the circus grounds and began to burn toward the village below. The circus master, convinced that the village would be destroyed and the people killed unless they were warned, asked if there was anybody who could go to the village and warn the people. The clown, dressed in full costume, jumped on a bicycle and sped down the hill to the village below.

"Run for your lives! Run for your lives! A fire is coming and the village is going to burn!" he shouted as he rode up and down the streets of the village. "The village is going to burn! Run for your lives!"

Curious, the villagers came out of their houses and shops and stood along the sidewalks. They shouted back to the clown, laughing and applauding his performance. The more desperately the clown shouted, the more the villagers cheered. The village burned to the ground and the loss of life was great because no one took the clown seriously. After all, he was just a clown.

It's startling the amount of influence we don't have when we look like clowns and don't live like Jesus. And when we don't live our faith, we're startled when our faith is challenged or when it comes under attack even though Jesus said this would be normal for Christians who truly lived their faith.

We're startled when we turn away from those in need because we know they'd probably buy booze or drugs with any money we might give them and then, out of the corner of our eye, see a fleeting, nanosecond image of Christ in their face.

We're startled when the death of loved one comes, as it will inevitably do, and we don't know how to handle the grief because we haven't incorporated the truth of the resurrection in our daily lives.


But the most startling thing of all is that this startling Savior, Jesus, still reaches out in startling encounters and changes lives.

Dr. George Morris is a seminary professor at United Methodist Candler School of Theology and a world expert on evangelism. He has dedicated his adult life to spreading the message of Jesus around the world. Dr. Morris grew up in a poor Appalachian family. His grandfather was an atheist, and none of the family showed any interest in spiritual things.

The year he turned seventeen, his father became friends with a local Methodist pastor. At a revival one night, George got the shock of his life when his father knelt at the altar and gave his life to Jesus. But what happened next really shook him up.

George's father got up from the altar and headed straight for George. His words burned their way into George's heart. He said, "Son, I know this is embarrassing to you, but I want you to hear me out and trust me if you can. I have found something here this evening that I have been searching for, for fifty-six years, and I would rather die than see you make the mistake I have made."

Young George Morris was startled by his father and startled by Christ that night. You see he did accept Jesus as his Savior that evening. That startling moment changed the course of his life, and has led him to influence countless other people and bring them into a relationship with Jesus, too. (3)

Let yourself be startled by Jesus. Let the startling forgiveness He offers through the cross, flood through you and wash you clean of everything that keeps you separated form God. Let the startling Good News of the empty tomb bring you to new life. Let the startling power of God's Holy Spirit fill your heart and soul so you can live like Jesus.

Startle God. Startle Jesus. Startle yourself and your neighbors by living a startling life, one that reflects the startling Good News and Unconditional Love of God in Christ Jesus.

This is the Word of the Lord for this day.



1. The Autoillustrator, P.O. Box 336517, Greeley, CO 80633 1-877-970-AUTO (2886), adapted

2. Kierkegard, Soren, Parables of Kierkegard (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press 1978)

3. George E. Morris, The Mystery and Meaning of Christian Conversion (Port Orford, OR: World Methodist Evangelism Publishing, 2004), pp. 15-17. Adapted


Other References Consulted

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