The Jesus Who Surprises: Opening Our Eyes to His Presence in All of Life and Scripture
:Discover the surprising places Jesus shows up in the Old Testament and the unexpected ways He speaks into our lives today. Offering a fascinating perspective on the historic, poetic, and prophetic books of the Old Testament, Brestin draws on...
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:Discover the surprising places Jesus shows up in the Old Testament and the unexpected ways He speaks into our lives today.
Offering a fascinating perspective on the historic, poetic, and prophetic books of the Old Testament, Brestin draws on her deep understanding of the full scope of the Bible to explore the timeless story of God's quest to rescue each of us.
She combines rich teaching, memorable storytelling, and an in-depth Bible study component to create a resource that shows readers how the story began (the books of Moses), how to live in the story (the poetic books), and how the story will end (the prophets).
Dee Brestin (www.deebrestin.com) is a writer, speaker, and teacher. Her book The Friendships of Women has sold over a million copies and was recently released in a 20th Anniversary Edition. Falling in Love with Jesus has sold over 400,000 copies. Dee has written twenty Bible studies, the first of which, Proverbs and Parables, has been in print for over thirty years. She is a frequent guest on Moody Radio (Mid-day Connection) and Focus on the Family; she also speaks to many large women's conferences yearly. A graduate of Northwestern University, Dee has studied with Covenant Seminary. She is th
A Journey of Surprises
And Our Hearts Burned Within Us
The passion children bring to hide-and-seek is the same passion we need to bring to finding God.
When our sons reached grade-school age, they morphed the game hide-and-seek into “scare” hide-and-seek, surprising the seeker by leaping with a roar from the broom closet or the outdoor trash can. Or, if the stealthy seeker spied toes beneath the curtain or noticed a breathing blanket, he’d creep in and grab the hider with a blood-curdling cry.
Our boys loved the adrenaline rush, but their little sister would often burst into tears. I’d say, “No more scare high-and-seek with Sally!”
Sally would protest, “Please, Mommy—I will be brave like my brothers this time. Let me play too!” If I relented and let her play, her terror and tears returned.
I wonder if Sally’s feelings were akin to how we feel about Jesus sometimes. We want Him to show up, yet if He does, we’re shocked and scared—similar to how the disciples felt when Jesus walked this earth. When a storm comes up with Jesus asleep in the stern, the disciples awaken Him and plead with Him to help. We are told that when He does, “they were filled with great fear” (Mark 4:41), suddenly more afraid of One who could stop a storm than of the storm itself.
That is how Dr. Jeff Johnson, my friend and neighbor, felt during one of his frequent medical mission trips to Honduras. On a Tuesday in July 1998, in Tegucigalpa, a young single mom brought her twelve-year-old daughter to the church, which had been transformed into a clinic for the week. She had taken Carla to six other clinics over the past several months. Each time Carla had been diagnosed with congenital glaucoma, the same medical condition that caused Ray Charles to go blind. It is permanent and irreversible. Jeff remembers the day well:
Another doctor and I examined her and we formed the diagnosis. Her corneas were smoky white as a result of the extremely high eye pressure, and her eyes constantly wandered. She was unable to fixate on any object and unable to see the light from the flashlight.
We spent time talking to the mother and told her there was no medical treatment available for her daughter. She had now heard the same diagnosis and prognosis for the seventh time.
The team hadn’t prayed for her to be healed, yet as they were escorting her and her mother out, Jeff thought, It wouldn’t hurt. The group surrounded the young girl, Jeff put his right hand over her eyes, and they began to pray.
He says, “I really don’t remember specifically what we prayed, and I honestly did not expect anything to happen. After a few minutes, I removed my hand from her eyes and she exclaimed,
“‘I can see!’
“My response was, ‘What did you say?’
“‘I can see!’
“We looked at each other, stunned in silent disbelief, while before our very eyes we witnessed a miracle. God had restored the visual pathways to her brain, and as the pressure normalized, her milky-white corneas became clear. As word of this spread through the packed clinic, a ‘Holy Silence’ swept through the building, for both Hondurans and North Americans alike.”
The German scholar Rudolf Otto used a Latin phrase for this “holy silence,” this awe that people from all cultures feel when they come into the presence of One perfectly holy and powerful. He called it mysterium tremendum et fascinans. To quote Otto, this phrase means:
~    “Mysterium”: wholly other, experienced with blank wonder, stupor
~    “tremendum”: awefulness, terror, absolute unapproachability…
~    “fascinans”: potent charm, attractiveness in spite of fear, terror, etc.
We have an approach/avoidance reaction to God as we are drawn yet fearful as His holy presence makes us realize how sinful we are. As the old spiritual “Were You There?” says, “Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.”
Jeff had all those feelings the morning of the miracle: bountiful joy, a fearful awe, and a deep conviction of how often he may have short-circuited God’s plan because of a preconceived notion of how He works.
I have come to believe that Jesus finds joy in surprising us but that often we are as blind spiritually as Carla was physically. We must ask Jesus to remove the veil from our eyes so we can see Him in every corner of Scripture and of life.
Jesus in the Old Testament
My dear friend Ron came to Christ at the age of seventy, and he delights me with his continual surprise as he discovers things that for me have lost their luster through familiarity. I’ve told Ron I want to follow him around with a notepad because his reactions are so wonderful, so quotable! The other day in a Bible study he said, “I never knew before Jesus that you should listen to your wife.” We burst into laughter. His wife, Debbie, grinned and said, “He’s a changed man!”
Ron and Debbie recently took me to dinner at a restaurant on Lake Michigan. As we watched the waves roll in, Ron asked me what I was writing now.
“It’s a book about how Jesus surprises us by turning up in the Old Testament and in our everyday lives.”
Ron’s fork stopped in midair. He raised his white furry eyebrows. “Jesus is in the Old Testament?”
I nodded. “Yes! Every prophet, priest, slain lamb, and suffering servant is a foreshadowing of Jesus, who is the ultimate prophet, priest, slain lamb, and suffering servant. But it is even more comprehensive than that. It isn’t just that Jesus hides in every Old Testament book, but that one story—the story of His promised rescue—threads all the way through. God loved the Son so much, He created a bride for Him in Genesis 1. Then, when that bride was unfaithful, God had to rescue her. That story is the tapestry of the whole Bible, from Genesis through Revelation.”
Ron shook his head: half amazement, half disbelief. I smiled, ready to mentally capture his response. “Dee, how do you know that?”
I told him about the Walk to Emmaus, my favorite New Testament story, where Jesus Himself explains this truth. It occurs on the first Easter Sunday, at the end of Luke, when Jesus surprises two disciples on the road to Emmaus. It is here that Jesus reveals that we should be searching the whole Old Testament for Him and His redemptive gospel plan. And, just as it was for these two disciples (Luke 24:16, 31), a veil must be removed from our eyes or we will miss this surprising Jesus, both in the Old Testament and in our everyday lives.
We Had Hoped He Was the One
Often we miss seeing Jesus in our lives because His behavior does not fit our expectations. The two on the road to Emmaus had expected deliverance from their political enemies, but now those very enemies had crucified Him. Who were these two disciples? At least one had to be named in order that this incident could be historically documented—and he is: Cleopas, though he is not named anywhere else in Scripture. And suggestions abound on the identity of the other disciple. Some think it is the wife of Cleopas, but we simply do not know. There is more detail in this resurrection account than in most, lending credence to the belief that Luke’s source was these two disciples themselves. (Luke 1:2 tells us Luke received his accounts from eyewitnesses, and it is fascinating to me that there are more women’s stories in Luke than in any other gospel, so some of those eyewitnesses must have been women.)
A “stranger” who comes up beside them asks, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” (24:17).
They stand still. “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” (verse 18).
Jesus asks them simply, “What things?”
They reply, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth…and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” (verses 19–21).
Then the two tell Him that “it is now the third day” (verse 21) since all this happened. In Jewish thought, the third day was the day of deliverance. On the third day, Abraham saw the ram in the thicket and Jonah was delivered from the whale. Jesus Himself had told His disciples He was going to Jerusalem to suffer, be killed, and on the third day be raised (Matthew 16:21).
Yet it’s the third day, and they think there’s been no deliverance. Jesus listens to them describe the “idle tale” of their women (Luke 24:11), who claimed that Christ had risen from the dead. (The Greek word Luke the physician uses that is translated “idle tale” is a medical term meaning “the delirious talk of the very ill”!)
At this, Jesus exclaims, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” (verses 26–27).
Then, “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (verse 27).
The figure of speech “from Moses…to all the prophets” is called zeugma and means all their Scriptures from “front to back.” In other words, Jesus shows them how every book of the Bible they have at the time is about the Christ and what He came to do.
Yet it isn’t until they are breaking bread together that evening that Jesus lifts the spiritual veil from their eyes and allows them to recognize Him (verses 30–31). Oh, what a reunion! He whom they thought was dead is alive, and they can see, hear, and touch Him again!
Later they marvel, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” (verse 32).
Did Not Our Hearts Burn Within Us?
Just as the disciples did, when we discover Jesus in unexpected places, “our hearts burn within us” and indeed we are transformed. John Piper says, “Beholding is becoming,” referencing 2 Corinthians 3:18: “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.”
The Spirit does a supernatural work in us when we behold the glory of the Lord. When I spy Jesus or His gospel in the Old Testament, my heart melts. Why? Awe comes over me as I see how every book in the Bible is about Jesus and His rescue. Over more than a thousand years, many holy men, from many cultures and places, though usually working independently of one another, told the same story. How could this be? It is because almighty God Himself is behind the various personalities telling this One Story, this story of His quest to rescue the family He loves.
Sally Lloyd-Jones, in The Jesus Storybook Bible, puts it like this:
It’s an adventure story about a young Hero who comes from a far country to win back his lost treasure. It’s a love story about a brave Prince who leaves his palace, his throne—everything—to rescue the one he loves. It’s like the most wonderful of fairy tales that has come true in real life!
This same Jesus who rescued His people back then is still rescuing us today. Often He appears when we are at our lowest, facing shattered dreams. He may surprise us, just as He did for the two on the road to Emmaus, by turning our sorrow into joy. Or He may show up when we least expect Him in answers to prayer, in timing that is too unusual to be coincidence, or through the sense of His holy presence.
I pray that through this book, God will lift a veil from your eyes so that you might more frequently encounter Jesus in Scripture and in life. At the close of each chapter is an in-depth Bible study to help you discover Jesus and His gospel for yourself. Whether on your own or in a small group, you will learn how to go on a daily God Hunt to see Him where you might have missed Him before, just as the two disciples on the road to Emmaus saw Him where they least expected Him.
Luke 24:44, Jesus mentions three representative divisions of the three main sections of the Old Testament: Moses, the Psalms, and the Prophets. Therefore, I am dividing this book and study into those three parts:
1. Books of Moses: representing the historical books of Genesis through Esther
2. Psalms: representing the poetical books of Job through the Song of Songs
3. Prophets: representing the prophetical books of Isaiah through Malachi
When we study the historical books (staying primarily in Genesis), we will see how the story begins: the beautiful music of creation, the song as it becomes discordant, and then the melody of hope reminding us that all is not lost.
When we study the poetical books (staying primarily in the Psalms), we learn how to live in this story, this fallen world, so that despite the sorrow, we may know an inextinguishable joy.
When we study the prophetic books (staying primarily in Isaiah), we will see how the story is going to end. When we realize how accurate Isaiah’s prophecies were concerning the first coming of the Messiah, our confidence will grow in the accuracy of his prophecies for the second coming of our Messiah and his prophecies of heaven.
Why the Big Picture Matters
Recently I counseled a young woman who was distressed because her parents, who once seemed so grounded in Scripture, had been swept up into false teaching. She said, “They are so sure that this new teaching is the truth and that they were wrong before. How can we know for sure what’s true and what is not?”
This is such an important question, and one of the main reasons I wanted to write this book.
I told her, “We need to take Paul’s warning to Timothy to heart, about ‘rightly handling the word of truth’ [2 Timothy 2:15]. The word handling in the Greek is orthotomeo, an engineering term that refers to keeping things straight, aligned—small pieces must fit into the unified whole. God doesn’t disagree with Himself. Any doctrine you embrace must fit into the unified themes of the Bible. The reason, for example, that we don’t believe that something must be added to our faith to save us, as your parents now do, is that the whole theme of the Bible is that the blood of Jesus is sufficient to make the vilest sinner clean. The reason we don’t believe that Jesus is just a great teacher or prophet—as Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, and Christian Scientists do—is that the whole theme of the Bible is that He is very God of very God.”