God’s people had anticipated the coming of the Messiah for centuries. Christ’s coming completed all the prophecies God had given them, yet when He finally arrived many rejected Him. How could this be?
The people were groaning under the iron rule of the Romans. The Lord had been silent (in terms of the Scriptures) for several hundred years. Expectations were high. Jesus had been going through the land healing and proclaiming the kingdom of God, attracting crowds and followers everywhere He went. Expectations were tremendously high … yet in the span of a few days it all fell apart. How could this be? The answer – expectations.
Every person having any concept of the Messiah also had expectations as to what He would be like and what He would do, and these expectations spanned the entire range of human existence: health, politics, finances, power, glory, dominion – essentially a one-man answer to every need and desire. Unfortunately, almost all these expectations were wrong, and were therefore left unmet. It explains their behavior, and it provides illumination for us if we are to avoid the poison of our own unmet expectations. In the events of Holy Week, we see at least four different responses to expectations that are not met.
The people – Those who angrily shouted “Crucify Him!” at Jesus’ trial were the very same ones who had joyfully cried out “Hosanna!” (“Save [us]!”) at His earlier entry into Jerusalem. In addition to all the good and miraculous works they had seen Him do, they expected Him to throw off the yoke of the Romans. When He meekly submitted to Pilate’s authority, it didn’t take much to transform their disappointment and anger into a thirst for revenge.
Judas Iscariot – We can’t really know all that was in Judas’ mind and heart, but from his behavior it seems most likely that he wanted to force Jesus’ hand – to put Him in a position where He had to exercise His power and authority to declare the Kingdom of God on the earth. When it became apparent Jesus would not do this, Judas realized that maybe God’s plan was different than his own. He tried to undo what he had done, and failing this he was overcome by guilt. Because he didn’t really know Jesus, he assumed his sin could never be forgiven and took his own life.
Simon Peter – We do know what was in Peter’s heart, as he made it very clear: “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!” (Matthew 26:35, NKJV). Despite his best intentions he did deny Jesus, and the guilt and shame overwhelmed him … but did not overcome him. Unlike Judas he really did know Jesus, so when He appeared at the lake where they were fishing Peter leapt into the water and swam to Him. Peter needed to be healed from his sin of three denials, which Jesus did in asking him three times “Do you love Me?” From that point on Peter was restored, and he was transformed into the faithful disciple he had always longed to be.
John, “the disciple whom Jesus loved” – John remains in the background, making no bold claims and taking no rash actions. He followed … he watched … he comforted … and he ended up taking Jesus’ mother into his own home. We do not know what his expectations were, but we do know his response: just as Jesus “only did what He saw the Father doing”, John quietly observed what Jesus was doing and fully participated in it. He was the only disciple to see it through to the end – the crucifixion – and he remained faithful to the end of his own life.
So we see four different responses to unmet expectations: anger ending in revenge; despair ending in escape; sorrow ending in restoration; perseverance ending in contentment. How will you and I respond?
We come to a very dangerous place when we stand face to face with unmet expectations. We have a choice, and that choice can affect our integrity, our personality, our personal testimony, our ministry, and even our eternal destiny! Every human since Adam has faced this choice many times in their lives, and each time as with Cain “sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you” (Genesis 4:7, NKJV).
What will you choose?
- Will we be angry, and seek revenge?
- Will we despair, give up, and abandon our faith, our involvement, and/or our responsibility to others?
- Will we accept the disappointment, grieve for a time, and then let Christ our risen Lord restore us?
- Will we trust that Jesus knows what is best and knows what He is doing, and follow Him with eyes and heart open to fully participating in His plan?
The first two of these will set us on a road away from God, the road that ultimately ends in spiritual death. If we head down this road we can still repent and change direction, but each time it will become more difficult to do so … and we will eventually come to a point of no return. The great danger is that we will not recognize that point when we reach it.
The other two choices will draw us closer to our Lord, and will end up increasing our faith, our strength, and our perseverance. It will also increase our ability to be the hands and feet of Jesus to others.
I pray that we all will continually make one of these latter two choices, for life will always be full of unmet expectations.