What Do You Expect?
Yesterday was Palm Sunday. Kids left churches all over the world smacking each other with palm branches. My daughter thought it was hilarious to tickle dad with her branch while he was driving. It wasn't.
I know the story of Palm Sunday well. Jesus gets a donkey, rides into Jerusalem and into a parade in his honor. Passover pilgrims line the street and wave branches at him shouting, "Hosanna!" (which means, "Save us!"). It's a great story. And all the more shocking that the same crowds were calling for his death within 5 days.
But is it really shocking?
In John's account of the event (John 12:12-19), we find that virtually no one present at the parade got it. Even the crowds who seemed to understand that Jesus was the Messiah still didn't believe (see John's comments later in chapter 12). What John gives us are 3 groups of people who missed the point because they had flawed expectations of who the Messiah would be.
Group #1 was the crowd. Because of Jesus' recent miracle of raising Lazarus, there was a crowd following him from Bethany to Jerusalem, not to mention the over 2 million people who had come to Jerusalem already to celebrate Passover. They had been waiting for a nationalistic, conquering Messiah for generations. Someone who would overthrow Rome and set up a new world empire based out of Israel. Someone who would ease their oppression and bring about a time of plenty and comfort. Instead, they got a Messiah on a donkey instead of a stallion. They got a Messiah who could heal the lame and the leper, but who didn't come off the cross. This couldn't be him. He didn't fit their expectations.
They needed to learn that the spiritual world is far more real than the physical.
Group #2 was the disciples. They had no illusions about physical comfort as a result of following Jesus. They had wandered with a homeless man for 3 years. And even though they knew who he was, they still thought the kingdom would come through power and fame. In Mark's account of Palm Sunday, on the walk up to Jerusalem, James and John are arguing about which one will be the greatest in the kingdom. All they can think about is how following Jesus will result in their own prestige. Even as they saw their Lord on a donkey, they didn't get it. John tells us that they didn't get it until after the resurrection (v. 16). This couldn't be the way to fulfillment. It didn't fit their expectations.
They needed to learn that the true path to power comes through humility.
Group #3 was the Pharisees. They'd been looking for the Messiah more intently than anyone else. And they knew how he would come. He definitely wasn't this troublemaker from Galilee. This guy was just a dangerous revolutionary who set himself against their system. As they watched him enter town, they realized his popularity wouldn't wane on its own. They needed to do something about it. They expected that if they cut off the head, the body would die. If they eliminated Jesus, they could intimidate his followers, and this whole revolution would die out. Oops.
They needed to learn that the message of Jesus cannot be stopped.
Even today, we have mistaken expectations of Jesus. I hear almost everyday how Jesus is a pacifist who would oppose the war in Iraq. Or that Jesus is most definitely a Republican. Or that he wants me to be rich and comfortable. Or that he should answer my prayers according to my timeline. Or that he will return based on the charts I drew up, after 3.5 years of this or 1,000 years of that.
No wonder so many people struggle with doubt and disappointment with God. They have misguided expectations of Him.
Real expectations come from knowing God's Word and His promises. Depending on those realistic expectations is called faith. And the real message of Palm Sunday is a warning: Don't miss the real Jesus among all of the fake ones built on false expectations.