10. Embrace the state of astonishment as a permanent and glorious reality.
It’s the element of surprise that makes astonishment the right word for the true follower of Christ. Our salvation is so entirely undeserved that we never get over being amazed by it. It’s no wonder that C.S. Lewis wrote a book about his conversion and called it Surprised by Joy. And it’s the element of surprise that separates the Pharisee from the recovering Pharisee. You can’t surprise a Pharisee.
Actually, a Pharisee doesn’t want any surprises. That’s the whole point. Pharisees have worked hard to eliminate any guesswork when it comes to righteousness. They know what is expected and they’re doing it. They’re the ones in control and that’s what makes them so smug. They know just how it’s all going to go down, too, and they can’t wait to receive their praise from God. Unfortunately these guys who take all the surprise out of life will find out the biggest surprise is at the end when things don’t turn out like they thought. Jesus warned the Pharisees to enjoy all the praise they get now, because that’s all they’re going to get.
Believe me, you don’t want to be around a Pharisee at Christmas. That’s just no fun. Like the Christmas Eve I was so tired I went to sleep and thought I’d get up in the morning in time to get all the presents set out and the cookies half-eaten and all, and Chandler beat me in getting up, Pharisees take all the joy out of everything. (Mrs. Claus never forgave me for that.) That’s because they have worked it all out (“work” being the operable word here). They’ve answered every question, figured out every possible scenario, mapped out every step, dotted every “i”, crossed every “t”. They are righteous, and they know why. There is no magic; there is no mystery; no fairy tale and certainly no Santa Claus.
Recovering Pharisees, on the other hand, don’t have a clue what’s going on. Because of God’s grace, they’ve been thrown in with a bunch of sinners, and though they are out of their “element” and fraternizing with the people they used to judge, they’re loving it. They’re not sure exactly how all this happened, they just don’t want God to change His mind, because they get it now. They get that they could never be good enough. They get that they talked themselves into thinking that they could be. They get who Jesus was and why He had to die — even why they had to kill Him. And though they’re sad about that now, they’re glad for what Jesus did, by making possible what they could never accomplish themselves — their salvation.
Recovering Pharisees have no clue who they’re going to find in heaven. They really don’t care. They can’t believe they are going to be there, much less anyone else! As far as they’re concerned, God can bring in anyone He wants. These people, who used to hold the keys to the kingdom and were standing at the door, keeping everybody out, are now standing at the door welcoming everyone in. After all … it’s the Gospel of Welcome — Grace Turned Outward. Recovering Pharisees, who have embraced their sin and been forgiven, know that as much as anyone.