Palm Sunday shook me up. After leading Palm Sunday worship services in church for 40 years, it finally dawned on me that the celebration of Palm Sunday was based on the false expectations of the crowd in Jerusalem. They believed Jesus was the Messiah, but their expectations were that the Messiah, Jesus, would use his authority to vanquish the pagan Romans, establish himself as ruler, give the Jews supreme standing above other people groups, validate centuries of belief that the Jews were worshipping the One True God, and vindicate them for the suffering they had faced for centuries.
They were right about the fact that Jesus was the Messiah, but their mistaken expectations of him led to such deep disappointment that they wanted him dead by the following Friday evening. Those who had loved him switched to hating him because he disappointed them.
My experience as a pastor is that the inevitable disappointment of unspoken and unfulfilled expectations is why most marriages dissolve, why people hurt and blame one another, why most people shift jobs and leave churches, and why revolutions happen. I’ve watched people become dismayed because it’s dawned on them that life, or something in their lives, will not turn out the way they’d hoped. When we don’t do what others want us to do, or they don’t do what we want them to do, our natural response is to become unhappy and do something about it. That’s often our transition from “Hosanna in the Highest” to “Crucify him!”
We all have hopes, expectations, and dreams that are not going to be realized, so we have to cope well with disappointment, or we might start looking for someone to crucify.
I think this is life.
Genesis 3:16-19 records,
Then he [God] said to the woman,
“I will sharpen the pain of your pregnancy,
and in pain you will give birth.
And you will desire to control your husband,
but he will rule over you.”
And to the man he said,
“Since you listened to your wife and ate from the tree
whose fruit I commanded you not to eat,
the ground is cursed because of you.
All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it.
It will grow thorns and thistles for you,
though you will eat of its grains.
By the sweat of your brow
will you have food to eat
until you return to the ground
from which you were made.
For you were made from dust,
and to dust you will return.
All of my life I’ve watched believers try to keep this reality from happening, hoping that the cross undid its effect in their lives. But as a pastor, I’ve known that even though we are redeemed from the curse of the law, we will continue to confront some element of the curse while on Earth until we see Jesus face to face.
Don’t get me wrong. I know we all live with a huge deposit of heaven in our hearts and enjoy the blessings of his Kingdom. We have been translated out of the Kingdom of Darkness into the Kingdom of His Dear Son, and we have been liberated from the tyranny and bondage to sin, no longer with any obligation to it. We rejoice in his righteousness planted in our lives, and the freedom and liberty that follows.
As believers, we are, in fact, aliens on this Earth. But we are, still, on this earth. Even though we know there are miracles, we are most often fully subject to natural law. Even though we have our Bible and the Holy Spirit’s counsel, we sometimes make mistakes because of bad ideas. Even though we know the Devil was defeated at the cross and we are dominated by God’s Spirit, not our flesh, temptations still come our way from time to time. And even though we have committed our lives to the Lordship of Christ, we may find ourselves needing to repent for a thought, word, or deed that came from within us, to our own surprise.
I enjoy experiencing the gift of faith, so none of these present realities are discouraging to me. What is discouraging to me, however, is the way some believers cling to a particular faith position and try to impose it on others, while they are in such a dramatic process themselves. Having an expectation of others when our own lives need so much repair leads to grave disappointment and blame.
I pastor an excellent church that enjoys life-giving sanctification unlike any local church I’ve ever observed. We are holiness people. We enjoy remarkable power and life because we decided to read and teach the Scriptures from a first person singular point of view. In other words, we don’t read or teach the Bible projecting the ideas on the lives of others, but instead we read and teach the Bible with our own growth in mind continually working to clean our own houses before we presume to know how the other guy should clean his.
This approach removes the tendency of expectations of others which may lead to disappointment, and keeps all of us grateful to be growing in his grace.