When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the last week before what we now call “Easter,” what do you think the people expected Him to do? Think about that for a moment before reading on.
Imagine Jesus riding into your city one Spring morning….
The truth is, nobody really knew what He was up to, including His most devoted followers. We will see that it was their expectations that caused many not to see. Some of those who had been waiting for their Messiah actually missed their visitation because of this.
Expectancy vs. Expectation
One of the things I’ve been talking a lot about with my church family is that we need to learn how to walk in expectancy instead of expectation.
- Expectation is when you expect a certain outcome.
- Expectancy is walking in joy and leaving the results to God. The focus is simply on taking the next step, by faith, that God is asking of you.
- But when we focus on expectations, our eyes go away from the Source of joy (Psalm 16:11; John 15:9-11) and on to what we think should be happening.
- We’re actually limiting God with expectations because He wants to do MORE than we can ask or think (Eph.3:20-21).
When I think about it, every major encounter I’ve ever had with God was unexpected.
What did these people expect Jesus to do?
Back to our story…what were the people watching Jesus ride into Jerusalem expecting Him to do? We can start by looking at the various groups of people in Matthew 21:1-13 and John 12:12-19. Let’s also see if we can find ourselves in any of these groups.
First, the residents of the city seemed totally oblivious to who Jesus was (Matt.21:10). Most of Jesus’ ministry had been “up-state” in country-bumpkinville (translate: Galilee). When I lived in the city of Chicago, many I knew referred to the people in the rest of Illinois as “down-state” country-bumpkins. Like with many in your city today, these people had no clue who this Jesus was, and probably didn’t really care either.
Some were only following because of the signs Jesus did. He’d just raised Lazarus from the dead and that got their attention (John 12:17-18). But they wanted no real relationship with Jesus. They’re bandwagon jumpers, thrill-seekers looking for excitement…chasing after the new charismatic Rabbi in town, the miracles…the food. Today, maybe some of them go to the latest coolest church in your town.
Next, we see the religious leaders, the Pharisees (John 12:19). They were upset because they saw Jesus as a threat to their religious power base. When they heard Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, they plotted to kill both Lazarus and Jesus (John 12:9-11). That seems like a strange reaction to a miracle, but when people in power feel threatened, they will resort to anything to keep what they have.
But what about Jesus’ devoted followers?
You know, the ones throwing down the palm branches, shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord…” Those who answered the city people, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth of Galilee.” (Matt.21:9-11). What did they expect Jesus to do?
Wrong expectations can cause us to miss God
When God doesn’t do what we expect (answer a prayer, etc.) we can set ourselves up for disappointment, disillusionment, or worse. But the problem is not with God; it’s with our expectations.
One of the enemy’s favorite tactics is to dis-appoint you, because God has appointed you to live a fruitful life (John 15:16).
The enemy does this because it usually works.
To see this point, let’s step back and think about what the prevailing Messianic expectations were when Jesus entered Jerusalem. There were many variations, but all of them pretty much amounted to their Messiah coming and delivering them from their oppressors and setting up Jerusalem as the worship center of the world. In practical terms, this meant crushing their current oppressor—the Roman Empire.
Now, Jesus entered the city by the Eastern Gate. You accessed it by crossing a bridge across the Kidron valley from the Mount of Olives (the bridge is not there now). When you entered the city from there, the Roman garrison (Antonia Fortress) would be on your right and the Temple on your left.
My question is this: Which way do you think Jesus’ followers thought He would turn after entering the city?
They probably thought He would turn right, to crush the Roman oppressors as they expected, but He goes left and drives out the money-changers in the Temple, symbolically crushing their own hypocritical religious system (Matt.21:12-13). What was Jesus doing? That had to be quite disconcerting to His followers.
Moving forward a few days, we see Jesus before Pilate, and many of these same palm-branch waving worshipers singing a very different tune:
12 Pilate answered and said to them again, “What then do you want me to do with Him whom you call the King of the Jews?”
13 So they cried out again, “Crucify Him!”
14 Then Pilate said to them, “Why, what evil has He done?”
But they cried out all the more, “Crucify Him!” (Mark 15:12-14 NKJV)
Do you see the irony? The “unchurched” pagan, Pilate, wants to show Jesus mercy and the palm-branch waving crowd, now turned angry villagers, want Him crucified! (That doesn’t speak well of us, does it).
But, the question here is, why did they turn on Jesus so quickly, and how could the religious leaders manipulate them so easily?
One answer is, no one expected a crucified Messiah. That wasn’t even on their radar; it wasn’t in their rabbinical teachings (although it was hidden in their Scripture), which led many to misinterpret their visitation. It led many to deny their own Savior.
How easy it is to throw Jesus under the bus when He doesn’t meet our expectations.
Of course, to be fair…no one got it. Paul later called this a mystery…
7 But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, 8 which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. (1 Cor.2:7-8 NKJV)
This about it this way: if the devil would’ve known what Jesus was up to he would’ve had all the Pharisees crucified. And Pilate, too!
Following Jesus means walking in expectancy
The point is, following Jesus isn’t easy. It takes great courage and faith. And He doesn’t always agree with our theology. He often challenged His follower’s assumptions in the gospels; He’ll surely challenge some of ours.
This is why I believe following Jesus means walking in expectancy, letting Him reveal to us what we have no mental grid for on our own. In fact, that’s exactly what Paul said in the next two verses in the same letter:
9 But as it is written:
“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,
Nor have entered into the heart of man
The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.”
10 But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. (1 Cor.2:9-10 NKJV, emphasis added)
You see, mystery is not never knowing, it’s ever-knowing. The things we cannot possibly fathom on our own, God will progressively reveal by His Spirit as He takes us “from glory to glory” (see John 16:12-15; 1 Cor.2:11-16; 2 Cor.3:18).
As we head into Easter, let’s contemplate and learn the lesson here. For when our heart is open to whatever God wants to do, we live in this great mystery, and that’s where He can “do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us.” Selah.